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.