On Saturday 8th February, the London Borough of Sutton ran a short day course in practical hedgelaying.
The course, delivered by Sutton Biodiversity Officer, Dave Warburton, started off proceedings at Sutton Ecology Centre in the Old Rectory building in Carshalton. After a brief introduction to hedges, the talk went into depth on the history of hedgelaying and the factors behind its rise and fall over the last 2000 years; such as during WW2 when many fields were expanded to increase crop production and make room for mechanized farming equipment. With the loss of over 50% of our hedgerows in some parts of the country over the last 100 years, we then looked at the impact it has had on our wildlife and why certain species rely on hedgerows for survival. An article written about this can be found HERE.
Once the question of why is hedgelaying important was dealt with, the next question was how do we lay a hedge. Various methods are used in different regions of the country and more information on the processes involved can be found HERE. With the techniques and process of cutting and bending explained, the next step was to have a look at the main tool involved, the sinister looking billhook.
After a quick tea and coffee break, the participants were led out into the Ecology Centre grounds to have a look at a previously laid hedge and to start preparing the stakes. There were a good number of 5-6ft straight lengths of ash and hazel that had been harvested from a previous bout of COPPICING. After a quick demonstration the participants had a go at using the bill hooks to cut the end of the stakes into points to make it easier to drive them into the ground. It’s safe to say some people had a better grasp on the technique than others! However, after careful guidance, everyone produced some good stakes. The next step was to prepare the binders out of long flexible lengths of hazel, by carefully cutting off all the smaller branches, leaving a long smooth binder.
The final step involved was just to drive in the stakes and weave the binders around the top, adding strength to the hedge as well as making it look neat. Now the hedge was done!
With the decline and poor management of hedgerows in Britain, it is important we keep these skills and traditions alive and help to restore this vital habitat once again. Hopefully, this course has helped towards this and the participants can use and pass on the skills they have learnt.
Matt Pendry BSc
Biodiversity Project Officer