Sunday, 28 September 2014

Opening sessions 2014/15

Well it's the hedge laying season once again, although you would never guess it by the weather we are experience lately - far too warm for laying heavy hedges. I missed the opening session with the Surrey Hedglaying Group on the 6th of September but did join them for coppicing on the 13th. This was followed by two sessions at Churt on the 20th and 27th when we laid approximately two hundred or so meters of predominately hazel hedge.

Hazel is easy enough to lay, being thorn-less, forgiving in the pleach and usually easy to clear out both in the canopy and at the field layer. However, it comes with it's own set of problems and challenges. It has usually been coppiced in the past and therefore has multiple stems emanating from stools, which may be closely spaced, or have large gaps between them. It has often been left to grow to twenty or more feet high before laying and hazels natural tendency is to form tall, straight poles with little side growth. The upshot is that the hedgelayer is faced with either too much material all in the form of long poles with the only side branches at the very top, and/or large gaps between the stools with nothing to infill with. In most cases a lot of material will be removed from the hedge, which is great if you can use the larger logs as fuel and can chip the smaller waste.

As you can see from the photos, our hedge was beside a country lane and on top of a steep bank on that side; on the field side the bank was only eighteen inches or so. As is often the case some of the stools have slipped down the bank over time due to erosion, creating an uneven hedge line and, on this steep bank, a difficult cutting position for right handed layers.

The finished hedge looks a bit sparse in places due to lack of material but, being hazel, it will thicken up quickly come next spring.

On the field side there is a neat finish opening up the view and, with the raising of the canopy on the standard trees, a lot more light is let into the paddocks. Although I did not take any photos before work started you can get an idea of what the hedge looked like from the one on the other side of the road.

Hedges made up almost entirely of Hazel are an interesting point for discussion. Most planted hedges, from either the period of enclosure or later, would be predominately Hawthorne as, unlike Hazel, this forms a good stock-proof hedge. From what I have read - and hopefully someone will correct me if I have got it wrong - Hazel hedges are of more recent origin and were in the not too distant past managed woodland that was worked under a coppice regime. When this form of woodland management became uneconomic the coppice was cleared for pasture or arable but the coppice stools at the field edge were left in situ to form a boundary marker. If the land was set to arable then there was no need for a stock-proof barrier and if there were stock then a post and rail or wire fence would be erected - barbed wire became common at the end of the nineteenth century.

On a different but connected note, below is a photo of two unusual billhooks seen at the recent Bently Woodfair. They are both from the well know maker Elwell, the upper one is marked 3811 and the unusual size of 111/2; the lower 3722, 10. Neither of these patterns feature in the 1950s Elwell catalogue I have a copy of - anyone know which model/region they are. It may well be that they were made under licence for Elwell by another forge, for sale locally or for a bespoke order, as they both have similarities with well known Elwell patterns.