Hedge Laying

March 4, 2010

What is Hedge Laying?

Source: The Hedge Laying Association of Ireland.

“Hedge laying is a method of rejuvenating a hedge. Rejuvenation through coppicing (cutting back) or laying takes advantage of the broadleaf tree species ability to make new growth after being cut back. New growth at ground level is effectively rejuvenating the hedge. This process if carried out regularly every 20-30 years can extend the life span of most hedgerow species almost indefinitely. Hedge laying is the art of cutting hedgerow stems partly through near ground level so that they will bend without breaking and will continue to grow. The laid stems are arranged to form a stock proof barrier. New growth comes from the cut stump rejuvenating the hedge and thickening up the base.”

The National Trust of Northern Ireland offers workshops for the general pubic in both coppicing and hedge laying. The photos to the right were mainly taken at a Hedge Laying Workshop with David Thompson at Murlough National Nature Reserve, and shows the laying of hawthorn trees.

Hedgerow trees are first trimmed of excess long branches, that may impede the tree’s capacity to lay down. The trees are then cut with an axe, or saw, until they are able to be bent over, a billhook is then used to create a plane of exposed wood leading into the cut area of the tree. The trees are held into place with hazel stakes. February is often the best month to lay a hedge, which creates a line of layered trees resting one atop another. Larger trees, i.e. ash or holly, could be left to grow naturally within a laid hedge to offer additional nesting areas for birds, while also offering more living spaces for insects.

In his book Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees Roger Deakin writes, “Laid Hedges are certainly more stock-proof, and their trees grow into interesting, contorted shapes. Very old laid hedges can be works of the hedgers’ art: a kind of tree jazz, improvised down the generations. A laid hedge is also sturdier and more stable. But the modern farmer’s  or conservationist’s natural impulse towards tidiness and management is mostly one to resist when it comes to hedges. Unless you can lay them by hand, far better to leave them alone to be wild as they like and grow into their own shapes. I know nothing uglier or more saddening than a machine-flailed hedge. It speaks of the disdain of nature and craft that still dominates our agriculture. Even after years of neglect, plashed (laid) hedges stand as a monument to the best traditions of good husbandry.”

To watch a hedge-laying demonstration, book a workshop, or hire a Hedge Layer refer to the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland website, http://www.hedgelaying.ie

Sonairte also offers hedge laying workshops, http://www.sonairte.ie

A useful reference book is called Hedging: A Practical Handbook produced by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.