Monday, 15 December 2014

Root and Back Laying

Out with SEHLS on Saturday at Rotherfield. For a change the weather was cold, dry and sunny although the recent rain had left the fields and tracks waterlogged and very soon the area around the hedge turned to mud.

There were two sections of hedge being tackled and I was with a small group of six working on an old and much bashed-about hedge that needed rejuvenating. As you can see from the photo below the hedge was a continuation of a trimmed section, about twelve feet high and next to a redundant farm building.

It had been cut at various heights in the past resulting in multiple stems and a very tangled upper section.

One of the first plants I had to lay in my cant was a Hawthorn where the stem had two sizeable roots either side of where the hinge would normally be but had rotted away underneath. This could not be laid in the normal way so I severed the root on the far side and then cut down the stem so that it was held by just the root on this side.

This allowed the stem to be laid over, retaining the root to keep the plant alive and leaving the now separated heal to the right to form a new plant. It's not laid right down yet as it is being held up by the laid-off stems out of shot to the left.

The next problem was a large five stemmed stool of what I think is red-stemmed willow - not easy to see from the photo but this years growth was a deep red colour. This stool had been much hacked about in the past and if there had been more material around it I might have just laid the stem on the front left and then trimmed the stool down nearer ground level. However, I needed to fill in the gaps so I laid all the stems bar one and back-laid the one on the right. This can be difficult if the stem is in any way brittle as it has to be bent back at an acute angle, but luckily this one behaved itself. A few contorted stems of Blackthorn can be seen on the right of the photo and with multiple pleaches these were brought in to fill the gaps.

A bit further down the cant was a large old Hawthorn, which again can prove challenging but this one was sound and not too brittle and went down well.

The hedge was so tangled in places a bit of climbing was required to free it up.

By the time we got round to the final clear up the light was fading and it was getting cold. This hedge had presented us with a number of challenges and at times it seemed an impossible task but in the end we made a great job of it and breathed new life into an old neglected hedge.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Cherkley Court - Second Session

On a somewhat surprisingly - in this rather mild early winter - frosty morning SHG were back at Cherkley Court. This time we had two hedges to lay within the complex. One was in the 'car park' and the other at, what will become in due course, the main entrance. I was assigned to the latter, which was a maiden double row hedge of some ten or so years; mostly Hawthorne but with a few Field Maple and Spindle mixed in. There was no field layer to speak of and, other than some Clematis vitalba tangling the tops, there was no impediment to laying the mostly 2 to 4 inch stems.

This piece of work was difficult to photograph due to the proximity of a rather busy road and the fact that we were working on the north side on what was a very bright sunny day.

It would appear that the hedge had been cut at about four foot at some time in the last few years but was otherwise unmolested. So it was easy enough work and handled in the main with hand tools.

Although this hedge was planted as a double row, many of the whips had not taken and there were many sections of single row stems and some sizeable gaps. In the photo below Con is healing-in some whips in one such gap. Note the heavy frost on the grass in the background. Even a short lived frost such as this has a surprising effect on the interaction of metal cutting tools and living wood. There is a distinct sound and brittleness to the cut, and 'Yorkshires' have a pronounced ring to them when cutting the pleach. I'm told that after prolonged periods of hard frost - not something we get to often nowadays - even young stems become so brittle that they are impossible to cut and lay without them breaking off.

As I said, not great photos due to the bright sun coming from the 'wrong' direction, but this shot shows the finished section from the East. This will be mirrored on the West side of the entrance when we lay that side in January.

Another shot looking East, with the strong sunlight makeing the hedge look rather thinner than it actually is, but with a nice stake line - and the frost still on the grass at 1300hrs.


Looking from inside the entrance you get a different perspective and I wish I had taken more shots from this side, although the brash rather obscures the view.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

South & West Wilts Hunt hedge laying competition

By way of a change from the South of England style, here is a link to a slide show of photos from the recent South & West Wilts Hunt hedge laying competition. Some great work here with the use of crooks and bonds.

Open the link and click on View Slideshow.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Scotney Castle - second visit

Back at Scotney Castle on Saturday, for the second visit with SEHLS. After the rain we have experienced over the last couple of weeks the ground is saturated and all vehicles had to be left in the car parks. The field next to the hedge was very wet and swishy underfoot but fortunately did not turn completely to mud around the hedge itself. We were working on the second section of the hedge that we started on our last visit in October but this section had a different structure and content, being a mix of Hawthorn and Hazel with one or two other species occurring randomly throughout. There was some self seeded rose and oddly one or two spindly Beech saplings.

I took the first cant which meant no laying off - don't know why this was left by those who arrived before me, as it was no better or worse than the other cants. I just had to undo some of the binding from the end of the previously laid section and start laying straight into the existing stakes - bonus! 

As it rained on and off for most of the day I didn't take as many photos as I had intended.

You can see from the photo below that the hedge had been allowed to grow up uncut but had recently - possibly last year - been flailed at about eight feet. This combined with the grazing of the sides of the hedge by the Sussex cattle meant that there were a lot of sturdy stems but not much side or top growth...

...and you can see it was much the same all down the hedge, although it was rather thin under the conifer (Scots Pine?) at the far end.

Looking down the hedge you get an impression of the species mix and density of the stems. On the right is a large Hawthorn with a 5-6 inch base and a lot of side stems, and on the left a Hazel stool with half a dozen straight poles and no side growth. What I did was to remove most of the large Hawthorn and lay the smaller stems in front and behind this, then lay most of the Hazel - but I did take out a couple of the straight poles for use as stakes.

In this shot you can see that one of the earlier large Hawthorns (right of centre) has been much reduced and laid. The sides look and bit bare for South of England style at this point but there was just sufficient material coming up to cover most of the pleachers.

A bit later...

By the time we got to the staking and binding stage the rain had cleared and the sun was out. Quite pleased with my finished cant and with the fact that, although hedges like this can be a struggle, you get the satisfaction that the hedge is rejuvenated and remodelled, which has has many benefits for wildlife, as well as improving the appearance and making the hedge easier to manage in future; and on this note I found, in my cant, what one of the NT wardens identified as a disused Dormouse nest just off the ground in a Hazel stool.

This last shot is looking up the two sections of hedge with binding in progress.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Cherkley Court

Last Saturday saw SHG at Cherkley Court for the first of three session this season. The house, gardens and estate once belonged to Lord Beaverbrook but are now being turned into an exclusive hotel, spa and golf course.

After several days of sunshine and heavy showers the day dawned dry and bright and the previous nights forecast indicated a mostly dry day. However, this was not to be the case and the showers soon arrived and remained with us for the rest of the session.

As you can see from the shot below the hedge is a maiden of some ten or so years; mostly Hawthorne with the odd rose, Field Maple and other species mixed in. Conveniently located alongside an internal roadway with the golf course taking shape in the background - the chalk subsoil showing clearly through the hedge.

There was a bit of discussion as to the species of the trees in the foreground. These had Hawthorne-like berries but noticeably larger, and sizeable spines on the branches, but the leaves did not resemble the native Hawthorn at all. It would appear that these are Cockspur Thorn (Crataegus persimilis 'Prunifolia'), although they have a more upright stance than most of the on-line descriptions and illustrations suggest but perhaps the crowns had been 'lifted' through judicious pruning.

It was decided that we would lay 100 yards in this first session and as the turnout was very good we put two cutters into each cant of about 10 yards. Although we all cut with hand tools, the size of the stems, ease of access to the hedge and lack of any entanglements in the crown, meant that very good progress was made and here my partner for the session Dick and I are about half way through laying.

As the cutters in the early cants finished laying the staking and binding teams got to work...

...and it didn't take long to complete the 100 yards. The stake-line looks slightly off-centre in the shot below. It was down the centre of the stems, however the post and rail fence on the right obstructs the tucking-in and pruning of that side of the hedge to some degree. Despite the recent rain the stakes were very hard to drive into the chalk, which here is only a few inches below the surface.

The last shot is of the cant that Dick and I laid. The safety barrier and chalk subsoil in the background detract somewhat but we understand that the rough and semi-rough on the golf course will be reinstated with native downland species, so in a few years it should be much improved.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The 2014 Nationals

The Nationals were held near Grantham in Lincolnshire on a dry sunny Saturday. Having driven through very heavy rain on the way up on Friday I was expecting the site to be waterlogged but in fact the 'going was soft' rather than muddy.

The SoE section was alongside a farm track and opposite the Midland section, just a stones throw from the main event site. We were able to park in the field next to our cants, which is always a great help.

In the photo below, those cutting in the Open class were nearest the camera, with the Intermediate class starting in the distance. We veterans were lumped in with the Intermediates and in fact there was only one non-veteran in the class.

The cants were ten meters (eleven yards) for both classes, which was a bit of a surprise and the stakes and binders left something to be desired. However, we were all in the same boat and the hedge was even throughout with a few large stems in each cant, no difficult under-storey but very tangled at the top where it had been flailed repeatedly.

As usual the five hours flew by and it was a rush to get my bit finished, so no time for photos during laying. I could have done with another half hour to put some finishing touches but did get the basics finished. The build was OK but the stake line was rushed and could have been a lot better as it wandered out of the hedge-centre towards one end. 

My cant is below with the Midland cutters across the track and the event marquees behind them.

I managed a third place in the Intermediates behind Dave and Lex and all in all I was happy with that as a fair result. Below is a shot of Dave's winning hedge.

The SoE Open class was won by Paul with this...

 ...and his very nice stake line.

This is a shot down the SoE section from Intermediates towards the Open class in the distance.

And for something different, this is Gary's cant in the Derby class.

Despite the length of the cants it was another great event as the Nationals always are. A nice meal at the hotel and a few drinks in the bar afterwards completed the day.

Oh, and Ian won the SoE regrowth prize - hurrah.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Back to Back Weekend

A few months back it seemed like a good idea to do two hedge laying sessions back to back, good practice for the Nationals next weekend etc.; after the first session on Saturday it seemed like madness.

Saturday was SoE's first training day of the season at Scotney Castle. As there were only a few trainees most of the cutters were laying a nine yard cant on their own or in pairs. The hedge was rather odd as it contained some Hawthorne of twenty five or more years together with much younger Field Maple, Wayfaring Tree, Cherry and Hazel. Perhaps an old neglected hedge planted up more recently. it had been flailed a few times at about five foot and then allowed to grow on to about ten feet high.

Although it had rained heavily overnight the ground was well drained and did not turn to mud underfoot.

Except for the removal of a couple of heavy heals I laid with hand tools, finding my newly re-handled 4lb Kent pattern axe very useful.

Lunch time and most cutters were half to two thirds through laying stems.

I was quite pleased with the final result. A couple of pleachers showing but stock proof - and speaking of stock, notice some splendid Sussex cattle in the background.


The Hampshire Hedge Laying Championships were held on Sunday near Medstead. Fortunately the overnight rain had cleared by the time we arrived on site but the hedge to be laid had been changed due to conditions. The new hedge was not that tall having been flailed not that long ago but it was alongside a concrete roadway and with no ditch it was relatively dry. The down side was that we were laying right to left and there was a wire sheep fence on the other side of the hedge - so not good for right handers.

 There were classes for Novice, Midland Open and South of England Open. My cant was typical of the rest of the hedge; about sixty percent Hawthorn with a mix of Hazel, Dogwood and, as you can see in the left of the photo below, some Wayfaring Tree. Dogwood is not a favourite of mine when laying as it tends to be spindly and results in thin sections in the finished hedge - see later.

I laid with hand tools and though rather tired from the previous day, really enjoyed the cutting and building of the hedge.

About two thirds of the way through I was ahead of time and just about to get to the section of Dogwood. We were to lay at three foot six to the binder tops, which was helpful in view of the original height of the hedge.For a change this hedge contained very little bramble or rose and because of its age and height there was little extraneous material to be removed.

This is the finished product. Stock proof but lacking in material at the front in one section. I found that laying back to front meant that I was concentrating too much on building the back of the hedge rather than the front.

A reasonable stake-line and good build width. I was reasonably happy with what I had achieved and managed a third place.

Here is Clive's hedge with the man himself giving a final check to make sure the pleachers are well covered. Good work and worthy of his second place - and he was only a whisker away from first place.

And the winner of the SoE open, and overall champion, was Mike with this great effort. He does build a nice hedge and I must spend some time watching how he does it. There are some uncovered pleachers nearest to the camera but his neighbour was the last in the Midland section so there was little Mike could do about that.

Monday, 13 October 2014

From the other side of the water!

From the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland's annual competition!!
There are 200 photos of the event on their Facebook page -

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Speynes Mere

SHG were at Speynes Mere again on Saturday, laying another section of the hedge we started last year. This is a planted, double-row, predominately Hawthorne hedge of twelve to fifteen years. The photo below is of the section we laid last year and shows the lack of any substantial undergrowth which is a great boon for the hedgelayer. The section we laid on Saturday was very similar but had been flailed at about five feet a few years ago, which had left a lot of stag-horn growth and tangled tops.

It had rained heavily on my drive down to the site and I was sure we were in for a wet morning. However, the rain kept off until lunch time and we just got a drenching as we made our way back to the vehicles. Because of heavy rain in previous days we had parked some way from the hedge and I left my camera in the car, so only got a few shots at the end of the session. The cant I had was a joy to lay and was done with hand tools only. It's surprising how fast you can work with just a billhook, axe and saw when the stems are of a reasonable size, not too tall or old and brittle and there is little clearing out to be done; as someone remarked 'that's all the pre-war hedgelayers used on any sort of hedge'. 

The photo below shows the team staking and binding through the final few cants. In the foreground is a section of Hazel which was the only poor part of the hedge with just a couple of small stools to cover eight feet of hedge, so it was laid in both directions to fill the gap.

Looking in the other direction we see a finished section - well almost finished as Roy is just taking off the ends of the binders with loppers.

And then it rained!