Sunday, 15 December 2013

SoE Training Day 3

Yesterday was the third South of England Hedgelaying Society's training day, this time at Guestling Thorne in East Sussex. A dry bright day; mild but with a chilling wind. The long shadows in the photo below indicate some nice early morning sunshine that did not last. The hedge was across the field from the one worked on for the John French Competition but was of a different character. Of indeterminate age, it comprised a mix of Hawthorne and Blackthorn with very little else except bramble and rose. Flailed repeatedly over many years at four foot six it had developed large stag-horns and rot had got into a lot of the stems; four or five years of top growth gave the hedge some height but there was nothing at all around the base.


As the hedge was unfenced and the sheep had eaten out all the vegetation up as high as they could reach, this is a good example of what happens when a hedge is not laid on a regular basis and is no longer stock proof, deteriorating rapidly and with no regeneration.

My student James and I had the cant shown above. It was the second to last one down the field and had fewer stems than those on the middle section but fortunately was not as heavy as those at the other end of the hedge. Lots of bramble and rose in the top which took quite a while to remove, but there was very little clearing out to do at the base other than the removal of dead and rotten wood. Except for the thinning down of a couple of large stag-horn stems with the chain saw we laid almost entirely with hand tools as most of the stems were between three and five inches in diameter. However, many were awkwardly shaped and partly rotten making for some challenging axe work.

Quite pleased with the end result, given what we started with. Stock-proof, but not enough material to properly cover the pleachers.

Nice stake line and good even width. The binders were not that great but we did a reasonable job given the materials we had.

Finally a general view of a few of the other trainers and students at work.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Moor Green Lakes

Yesterday's visit to Moor Green Lakes, the last laying session of the season, was to complete a section of hedge, part of which had been previously laid by the group (not sure exactly when).

A planted hedge of unknown age containing Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Dogwood and Field Maple, with little or no under-story thanks to the overshadowing trees, which had caused the hedge to grow somewhat lopsided out towards the footpath. 

Groups of large'ish Hawthorns and Field Maples were interspersed with sections of spindly Blackthorn - much of it dead - and Dogwood. As you can see the Hawthorns were very tall, having stretched up to the light, and had thin intertwined tops. The previously laid section of the hedge can be seen on the left of the photo below.

It was a pleasant day, not too cold and with little wind. A good turn out by the group ensured that we got the hedge finished in good time (to get to the pub) and the end result was very pleasing, attracting complimentary comments from members of the public using the foot path. Also, many thanks to members of the Moor Green Lakes Group that cleared and burnt the brash.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The John French Competition

Another day, another hedge - and this time not such a nice one. Very variable with a lot of heavy stuff at one end and quite thin at the other, with every variation in between. It was a planted hedge of unknown age but judging by the gnarled old hawthorns and the size of the stems on the oaks it was well over thirty years old. It had been repeatedly flailed at about four feet and the rabbits had decimated the planted stems in places creating large gaps. Over the years some Willow had grown up from the ditch bank as had the Blackthorn suckers. The hedge was also full of bramble and rose - not the hedge layers favourites.  You can see in the photo below the remains of an old picket fence, fortunately without wire!

 This is my cant - about half way down the hedge. A bit of everything in here. On the left some medium sized Blackthorn. In the centre a lot of rabbit damage and some old fencing. Most of the tall growth you can see, comes from a large willow stool growing in the ditch at the back and then on the right some gnarled old Hawthorns with three feet of new top-growth.

I know we hedge layers all like to moan about the cant we get but mine was really thin at the front with most of the growth coming from the ditch bank. What I do need to get to grips with is how to lay a hedge up the bank and still make it solid and stock-proof.

So below is my cant at the finish - no time to take photos before as I was sweating like a bull trying to get all the rose out of the tops and get the hedge down in time. Most people were having the same problem and as a result the judges extended the time allowed by three-quarters of an hour (we were laying 11 meters in five hours).

Not my finest hour as you can see and a bit thin on the right due to not much material coming over from my neighbour.

This next shot illustrates my problem. You will see that the hedge-line in the background is quite straight but then the bank continues towards the lower middle-left of the picture with no plants on it at all. What growth there is comes from the ditch on the right. Must get to grips with how to deal with this. Have to say I was not the only one with this problem.

Now if you want to see a nice straight stake-line and a thick, even hedge, look no further than this effort by Mr Tunks, who was placed second.

 Unfortunately I don't have a photo of the winning hedge but I am delighted to report that it was laid by Mike Bentley and a great job he did too. Frank got 'best work on a poor length'  which was also well deserved.

John had laid on a really nice lunch and thanks to him for this and a great, well organised competition - if a very hard one.

Saturday, 23 November 2013


Had a week away in Ireland so a bit late in posting this and the next post. It was a busy weekend with a SHG visit to Tatsfield on the Saturday and the John French Competition on the Sunday.

The Tatsfield hedge was a continuation of one we had done last season, separated by a field gate. However, this section was a much better prospect, with some nice planted sections of Hawthorne, Blackthorn and Field Maple. There were some difficult sections with large, heavy stems to be positioned and at the top end a very thin section of Blackthorn.

Forgot to take any photos before we started laying but this is one of the lower section taken some time into the job.

The next shot shows Con giving a master-class in staking and binding.

Now some work with hand tools on some of the reasonable sized Hawthorns under the supervision of Fred H.

In another section Fred O gets to work with the chainsaw.


And now the top section of the hedge, staked and bound. As I said, it is a bit thin this end but the final result looks neat with a nice straight stake line and the binders following the contours of the land just enough without exaggerating them. By this time the sun had disappeared behind the clouds making it look like a different day.

This next shot shows a section of the hedge we laid last season. The regrowth is not good due to the poor condition of the original hedge but it is there and hopefully in another year or so it will thicken up and gain some height.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Nationals 2013

Yesterday was The Nationals at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire. The weather was reasonably kind, with just a few light showers. However, the wind was quite strong at times, making it necessary to hang on tight to the taller stems as they came down to prevent them blowing way out of the hedge-line and breaking off.

Parking was away from the hedge and we were ferried to and fro by tractor and trailer, which always makes it difficult for people like me who like to bring the proverbial kitchen sink with them. 

The hedge itself was at first glance very manageable - how many times have I fallen into this trap - but was rather tall, at some fifteen to twenty feet, and did contain some sizeable Field Maples, but I think we all felt comfortable that the cants were much of a likeness, at least within our class. The side had been flailed up to about eight feet removing some useful side growth.

The first problem to arise was that two of the SoE veterans had been held up waiting for transport to the hedge and it was ten minutes past the draw time when the decision was taken that we could wait no linger and to draw for those that were present. The delayed two turned up a short while later and were told they could have extra time at the end so as to put things on a level playing field.

In the draw I get the first cant, which looks OK, except for some large Field Maples that appear to have been damaged when younger and had dead wood in the area of the pleaching hinge. Quite a lot of Spindle and Dogwood in the cant too, which could prove interesting.

 And then I get a bit of a surprise - the cant next to mine is the last of the SoE Intermediates and one of them has not turned up and so after I had laid-off the first two stems - I hadn't noticed that there was no one working that cant - I'm told by their judge that I will have to stake from my first peg and make what I can of the join into the un-laid section. No point in worrying about that now as there is a hedge to lay. So, I press on and take the tops out of a couple of Field Maples and get them down and it looks like this at about a third of the way down the cant.

Quite pleased with the pleachers at this stage, but struggling a bit with the build, as the Spindle and Dogwood was tall and thin and with all the side growth at the top - poles with fluffy tops - and I couldn't seem to get the build right. At one point I glanced at my watch and thought it said one o'clock, panic set in as I still had four or five stems to lay and there was no way I would be able to finish laying and get the stakes and binding done in an hour. After a while I could still hear chainsaws so thought others must still be laying and so had a look down the line, and indeed the others looked to be be as behind as me - another look at the watch showed that I had apparently misread five-past twelve. Big sense of relief but I still felt under pressure as I had a lot to do in the remaining time. So no time to take any more photos till the end. To cope with the un-laid section to my left I had to cut off one of the laid-off stems and force what I could of the others into the standing hedge at the start of my cant, which was not ideal. Anyway, I did get it finished in the nick of time and this was the result.

The binders supplier were absolutely beautiful and made it easy to get a nice straight top. The cleft Chestnut stakes were also good but my line had a slight curve that I couldn't straighten because of the number of heavy stems in the hedge and no amount of pulling and pushing would resolve the problem and I had no time left to move the last stake, which may have made it look a bit better. 

I was pleased with some aspects of the finished job but felt that the build was uneven and in fact the back of the hedge, in my opinion, looked better than the front. I also felt that it was a rushed job with no time to stand back and look at what you were doing, but then that's competition laying for you.

But everything said, it was a great day as always and although I was well and truly knackered at the end I did enjoy myself and its wonderful to see the different styles and the top-notch work done by some of the competitors.

So what should it have looked like? Well here are three shots shots - the first is a rather poor photo of the SoE Intermediates;

and the next two are of the SoE Open.

And for something completely different - here is Gary's Derbyshire cant.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

First SoE Training Day

The first South of England training day was held yesterday in a wet and muddy field near Laughton. The day started grey and overcast with a little drizzle but as the morning wore on the showers came sharp and heavy and it being rather warm it was difficult to work in a waterproof coat, so most of us just got wet. However, the rain did not dampen the spirits of the trainers and trainees who had turned up in good numbers.

The hedge was a maiden of twelve to fifteen years that had been planted in two rows - somewhat too far apart in my opinion - and was mostly Hawthorn but with a good number of Field Maple, Spindle, Crab Apple and Cherry spread throughout. As noted in the past, the Field Maples had done well on this moderately heavy soil and had attained a height of fifteen to twenty feet with a base diameter of six to seven inches, out-competing, and somewhat overshadowing, the Hawthorns. Added 'interest' for the hedge layer was provided by the conifer plantation that backed onto the hedge that had caused the majority of the side growth to be on the field side, with many Hawthorn stems leaning at 40 degrees in that direction, providing some challenging hand-tool pleaching situations.

Forgot to take a 'before' shot of the hedge but this is one about two thirds the way into laying our cant and you can see the plantation behind and the fence in front. The decision was taken to lay to the right so that we could work from the plantation side as there was more room to work there than between the hedge and the wire fence. You can see from the photo the long spindly top-growth but not the lack of side growth on the plantation side.

Most of the work was done with hand tools, the exception being the taking out the top growth of the large Field Maples and removing altogether two that had suffered what looked like squirrel damage in the past and had large areas of dead wood around the area of the pleach hinge. 

My student, Charlie, is a trug maker and had a good understanding of how wood behaves in relation to application of hand tools and he had soon got to grips with the principles of pleaching and together we made a decent job of getting the hedge down and trimmed into shape.

Unfortunately the stakes and binders provided were rather less than ideal, and although we got a good straight stake-line, it was nigh on impossible to get a level and consistent appearance to the binding. Nonetheless we made a fist of it as this rather poor 'into the sun' shot shows.

The following shot shows a larger section of the hedge, with one cant being worked on, and finished ones overseen by Tony, myself and Roy.

We were working on a section of the hedge round the corner of the field from the main bit which is shown below. It's not all finished as I was wet through and getting cold and as my cant was finished I decided to make for home.

Its the Nationals this coming Saturday, so fingers crossed for some dry weather and a light, dense hedge, without brambles or other complications - fat chance.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Speynes Mere - visit 1

Yesterday SHG started on the Speynes Mere hedge. This was the first of three scheduled visits to this Surrey Wildlife reserve. It is a maiden hedge comprised almost entirely of Hawthorne and approximately 12 - 15 years old - although I am getting shy of giving the age of a hedge based on recent findings from samples taken at Leigh - see last weeks post.

 As you can see from the photo below there was a surprising variation in the thicknes of the stems. Most were manageable with hand tools but there were a number of heavy 5 to 6 inch diameter stems better handled with a chainsaw. On the other hand there was a lot of spindly growth, some of which may have been self-seeded.

 There were, I think, sixteen cutters on site and by lunch time we had got a good section of the hedge down, staked and bound. The only real problem was that the hedge was shaded on one side and had therefore concentrated its growth on the opposite side, causing an imbalance that needed correction by the removal of some side growth and secondary pleaching where necessary.

 On what turned out to be a very pleasant sunny day we produced a nice section of hedge allowing the public views of the lake from the footpath.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Allotment hedge at Leigh

On Saturday we (SHG) finished off the hedge a Leigh. I was there for the first session on the 7th September but missed the second one on the 21st. The hedge was on two sides of a Parish Council allotment and ran alongside a road on both sides giving the finished product maximum exposure to the general product. Although the stems were not more than four or five inches in diameter, from an analysis of two cut samples taken from the hedge it has been estimated that it was planted in the 1920s and has been trimmed almost every year since then, producing very tight growth rings.

The hedge had been allowed to grow on for a few years but in places had not gained much height or width, especially under some of the Oaks where spindly new stems had arisen from old, brittle and partly rotten old growth, requiring some root-laying.

Despite all the issues the SHG team made a splendid job of the hedge which received much praise from the general public and the Parish Council.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

First competition of the season

The first hedge laying competition of the 2013/14 season in this neck of the woods was organised by the Laughton and District Agricultural Society and held on Saturday 14th September near Blackboys, East Sussex.

The hedge was a maiden of about fifteen years or so which had been flailed for several years at about five feet and then allowed to grow on to about  twice that height. The farmer had recently mowed the field right up to the hedge, removing a lot of bramble and other growth from around the base. On first sight the hedge looked very straightforward and not too heavy, so almost all competitors chose to cut with hand tools only - there being a special prize for the best axe work. However, as has been the case in the past first impressions can be wrong, and so it proved in this case, as whilst the bottom of the hedge looked relatively clear the upper part was full of bramble and after an hours hard work most competitors had not yet started laying.

The cants were much of a likeness and mine was representative being almost exclusively Hawthorn  with some self sown Sycamore and Ash. Stem diameter was between 2 and 6 inches but mostly 3 to 4 inches and so manageable with billhook and axe.  There was little side growth low down due to the bramble and there were deformed and rotten stag-horns where the hedge had been flailed, with long thin new growth above that.

The shot above shows some of the first stems I laid, with a large one left of centre that had grown at an angle away from the direction of lay and required a saw cut and wedge to get in a pleach as it was not possible to make an axe cut at that angle. As you can see there is very little side growth low down and I have laid off to the left as my neighbour was left handed.

So slow was the progress due to excessive clearing-out that after the allotted time of five hours less than half the competitors had completed their ten yard cants. So we went off to lunch and came back and finished off later.

Despite all the difficulties the finished hedge looked great and being next to a busy road attracted a lot of attention from the public.


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Hedgelaying in the Netherlands

Click on this link for a very nice video of the 'National Competition Maasheggenvlechten 2013, Boxmeer, the Netherlands by Damon Peacock. Look out for some familiar faces from the British scene.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

SoE Annual Competition

Yesterday saw the annual SoE hedgelaying competition at Donnington near Chichester. A cold but bright day and as it had not rained for several days the site was relatively dry - except for a ditch beside the hedge which had a foot or so of water in it.

The hedge itself was variable in both species and thickness. Some parts were neatly planted Hawthorn and Field Maple of three to five inches in diameter, and others thick with one to two inch Blackthorn. All sections were full of bramble but the cants under the large Oaks were very thin.

 My cant was one of the better ones - as were those of my fellow veterans - mainly Hawthorn with some Field maple and a few spindly Blackthorn and Hazel.
Once I had cleared out the bottom and the bramble from the top it looked a lot thinner than in the photo above and one section in particular had no growth at mid-height making it difficult to get some width and density into the hedge.

No intermediate photos I'm afraid as the battery in my camera was flat and I took these on my phone which was also running low. This next two are by Jackie Gilligan - see above for a link to her photo pages.

I was pleased with the finished hedge but as always you think you could have done this better or laid that differently etc. Apparently the judges also liked it, as I won the Veteran Shield by a whisker from frequent sparring partner Clive.