Southern Water Biodiversity Grant funded - Hedging Our Future Project
In November we have started our planting programme and have planted 648 trees totaling 230 metres of new hedges. This has included 12 native species with a personal favourite of mine, the crab apple. Please do join us in December to continue with the planting as WE NEED YOUR HELP.
Laying hedges to improve them – new growth and revitalisation
During the winter months when the hedge trees have stopped growing and bird breeding season is over, this is the time to carry out maintenance and management.
Traditionally hedges were used primarily as stock enclosures and therefore looked after to ensure that no gaps developed and they remained thick and strong. This was done on a rotational basis with sections of hedge layed so that new growth developed from the bottom making sure it was dense and bushy. Nowadays most hedge management is done through flailing with a tractor which is fairly indiscriminate and takes the height down and some side growth. This should not take place between the end of February and the end of August as birds will use the hedgerows for nesting. Ideally this flailing will also avoid September / October / November so that all the tree fruit is not lost and can be used by both resident and migrating bird species such as Fieldfares and Redwings.
Laying a hedge does take a certain amount of skill and when it is done well it really does look amazing. If possible, it should be carried out when the trees are still young, approximately 5 years old, as much of the growth and the crown will have to be cut away. This will be easier to manage with less material to cut through. The tree trunk at the base near the ground is cut through about 80% of the way and the tree is then laid over. A very sharp bill hook and good elbows are needed to do this as it can be very easy to slice the whole way through the stem and be left with a decapitated tree in your hand.
The trees are then held in place, lying down, with straight hazel stakes and long thin whippy hazel binders are then threaded around the stakes to keep them rigidly in place. This weaving of the binders can differ in pattern and many counties have their signature style.
Surprisingly the trees in the hedge do not die as a result of the damage done to them and respond by going into survival mode. They push out new shoots at the base, where the cut was made, creating a much denser area of growth at ground level. This creates a stock proof fence with no gaps. Where all the crown branches were removed to allow the main trunk to lie down easily, this grows again heading skywards and intertwining with the neighbouring trees.
We have found that willow species can be particularly vigorous in recovery growth and we have gone back to specifically cut it again to give the other trees a chance to complete.
When a hedge is newly laid it really does look fantastic but this is a traditional skill that is slowly disappearing. Ideally you have lots of people working together and then about 30 metres of hedge can be laid in a day. A tractor can flail hundreds of metres of hedge in that time but often leaves them looking distressed and damaged. Regardless, the trees respond and grow back but not at the base with no low cutting.
We plan to carry out a hedge laying session in the new year so do keep an eye out as we will need lots of help and it is a very rewarding activity. Learn a new skill and have fun!