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" Hedge Laying with Cumbria Wildlife Trust "

Date & start time:      28th Feb / 1st March 2023.

Location of Start :     Maggie's Bridge, Loweswater, Cumbria, Uk. ( NY 135 210).

Places visited :          The field in the second meadow after the car park.

Walk details :              Back and fore, bend and straighten, cut and thrust.

Highest point :           Standing back at the end and admiring the work.

Walked with :              Myself and five others, plus Jamie and Lee (the instructor).

Weather :                     Mixed but fortunately overcast and dry when it mattered.


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Recently I had the opportunity to join a Cumbrian Wildlife Trust two day "Hedge Laying" course here in Loweswater,

something I had always secretly wanted to do. 

A couldn't offer myself as a future commercial partner for the Trust but I did learn a lot about hedges and wildlife.

We parked at Maggie's Bridge and walked across to the second field where the course would be held.

First photo before all the participants had arrived . . .   I'm on the right and Lee Bassett, our instructor, is next to me.

On the left Derek, Sue and in the centre is Amber from the Cumbrian Wildlife Trust.

Lee took us over to the hedge that we had been asked to work on.

It was a hedge full of mixed varieties, but with a good percentage of hazel and fortunately no blackthorn or other sharp, spiky varieties.

He also showed us a brand new hedge built on a kist or mound.
. . . and this older hedge which had been flat-layered Cumbrian style.

The Cumbrian hedge on the right had been nearly decimated with just a few horizontally cut branches or pleachers remaining.

To be fair, this does actually grow back well to produce new shoots and to re-start the hedge, but has little benefit for wildlife in the mean time.

It also needs wire fences either side as it isn't stock proof for several years.

- - - o o o - - -


The other , modern alternative is

the hedge cut with a mechanised flail cutter.

You end up with a quick and easy job that looks okay,

but over the years grows to become top heavy

with big gaps in the hedge at low level.


This treatment is not stock proof either

and depending on the time of year it's cut

the hedge can lose young spring shoots, summer flowers,

autumnal fruit or winter protection for wildlife.


- - - o o o - - -

Time to offload our basic equipment and for Lee to explain when and how to use them.

The course will be based on the use of hand tools so that we can appreciate the basics of the craft.

He also explained the advantages of single sided axe sharpened on one edge only. 

They give a flat-sided cut for close crop work and tend not to dig into the stem when stripping side branches.

Normal axes that sharpen both sides of the blade gives a mid-line cut, useful where your striking angle needs to alternate.

There will be eight of us so we dived the hedge into four manageable sections and worked in pairs.

We laid out some stakes, not for use immediately but to define our four working areas.

The old wire fence had been previously removed, so our first job is to remove the brash and side shoots of the current hedge.

This gives us access to the core of the hedge and this is where a good pair of bright orange (or purple) gauntlet gloves comes in handy.

Step two is to decide what to keep and what to discard.

Not all branches are to be layered as there's not enough space, so we chose the medium-mature shoots for the simplest option. 

Maddy finds the hand saw and axe are good basic tools for doing this work.

There are several large clumps of hazels within this hedge as it hasn't been layered before.  They are not the easiest to work.

As the work is being done in sections, we have to lay our branches out at 45 degrees to allow others access to the adjacent trees.

Derek choice is a double sided Yorkshire billhook.
The product of the morning's work showing the cut branches.

Lee is advising Derek how to cut the sapling.

The plan is to trim off three quarters of the cross section of the wood and weaken the tree so that it bends the last quarter without splitting.

When the hedge in high then the branch has to be lowered carefully and slowly so as not to overstress the curve.

Once down the cut must be tidied to reduce the chance of infection entering any wide open cuts.

There's an art in shaving the tree sufficiently so it can bend, as opposed to cutting it too little or too much so that it snaps !

Tough work this physically and mentally . . . so some of us adjourned to the Kirkstile for a period of lunchtime relaxation.

After lunch we returned to continue the work.

The dogs normally have a walk during the day so I brought them across after lunch.

They won't get a formal walk till the end of the day, but for now they can be casual observers rather than be stuck at home.

By the end of the afternoon the pile of discarded branches is impressive.

- - - o o o - - -

Next morning we return to continue the work.

The girls at the start of the section have been able to start laying their hedge along the required line.

To save time, Lee uses the chainsaw to trim and cut the larger trees.
The larger branches are trickier to deal with.


Time to make the required pointed stakes.

Lee brought some with him, but we have also salvaged some from branches cut from this hedge.

The first sections of the hedge have been laid in sequence

so it's time to incorporate Derek and my cut branches back onto the hedge line.

Lifting and levering multiple branches saves time.
With that extra help everything falls into place.

Lunch on the second day . . . all of us stay on site to save time.

I thought I was bold bringing the dogs to sit by the car, in order that they don't sit at home on their own all day.

My colleague went one better.

Tanya brought her pet rabbit as she didn't want it to be left at home either.

Back at work, the vertical stakes were then driven into the centre of the hedge every three feet or so, often using a classic home made Irish shillelagh

Then longer, thinner branches called bindings are woven between them to secure and tidy the top of the hedge.

Lee explains about the way to thread and twist the stringers to ensure that they hold themselves in place over time.

Some vertical stakes are longer or don't get bashed into the soil so far, so they need trimming for neatness.

A final tidy up on the second day.

What we've created is a 'Midland Bullock' style of hedge, around four foot high, with a woven barrier that ends up being stock or bullock proof.

This side of the hedge has been tidied and is flat and clean.

The back can be treated similarly but we haven't done so, in order to provide more wildlife friendly habitat.

This top end of the hedge is rather open, but that will be put right when the next section is laid on top of ours.

At the end of the day we must end with a photo of the group and of the results of our labours.

Jamie, myself, Derek, Tanya, Amber, Sue and Maddy.  (I hope I've got that right) taken by Lee.

[ Note the various tools we used from the axes, billhooks and saws to the wooden hammer-like shillelagh.]

A final photo showing all the sections of hedge blending in beautifully . . . I call that a success.

- - - o o o - - -

We had learnt the classic way to layer a hedge but it has involved eight of us two days to layer about fifty yards of hedge, not the quickest !

On a technical note we asked how well we had done, both in terms of quality and quantity.

Considering the time taken to stop and explain the technique and the complexity of the old hedge, Lee was extremely pleased.

However, working commercially with an experienced assistant and using power tools, Lee would normally complete this amount in a single day.

Here we've created a living barrier for livestock that offers shelter for birds and a home for invertebrates on which they can feed.

You don't get that with a mechanically flail cutter !

- - - o o o - - -

My thanks to Jamie and the Cumbrian Wildlife Trust, to Lee our excellent freelance instructor and to the other trainees on the course.

- - - o o o - - -


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Previous walk - 20th February 2023 - In Search of Snowdrops

A previous time up here - 17th July 2014 - Loweswater and High Nook

Next walk - 2nd March - Holme Wood & Spout Force