Once more unto the Breach: hedge-laying at Breach Community Wood
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
To protect nesting birds, the hedgelaying season runs from October to March. In 2020 our hedgelaying group finished their work at Foxburrow and moved on to Breach Wood, Hailey where they are laying a significant hedge that runs from the Community Wood down to
Whitings Lane along a popular walking route. In contrast to the hedges at Foxburrow, which were recently planted with thin stems less than 50mm in diameter, the Breach Wood hedge is much more mature, with bigger stems (150–200mm in diameter). An additional complication that it has been laid once before around 12 years ag
o, meaning that the hedge-layers have to clear o
ut old material and lay more challenging regrown stems.
To address t
his challenge, the hedgelayers have adopted a new tool: the chainsaw. Two of the group are formally qualified in the safe operation of chainsaws, which are potentially very dangerous in unskilled hands.
By the end of the 2020 season, a good section of the Breach Wood hedge had been completed—but sadly the looming Covid crisis cut the season short. Luckily, the hedgelaying team had reached a nice tidy finishing point. In winter 2020, between lockdo
wns, they managed to make a good start to continuing the work, though some of the team were unable to help out due to illness. They were happy to see significant regrowth from the previous season's work, and to receive positive comments from passing walkers. The team continues to build their skills and experience with a focus delivering a tidy hedge that conforms to the Midland style of hedgelaying.
There are many regional styles of hedgelaying around the country, developed over the years to meet each region's specific farming needs and landscape. Midland is the style of hedge that would have been seen in Oxfordshire. It is characterised by its asymmetric style, with a smooth “face” which is on the road side of the hedge and brush facing out into the field. Midland style hedges are typically topped with an attractive twisted top made of binders, which the group has harvested from Breach Wood's Hazel Coppice along with stakes to support the hedge as it grows. Coppicing is another traditional rural craft, which takes a natural rotation of Hazel and allows it to regrow.
Alas after a couple of sessions, our hedgelayers were back to lockdown, and following brief restart found themselves unable to progress again in 2021. They are hoping to be able to get back onto the hedge before the end of the season and get the current section completed. Until then, they are stuck sharpening their tools.
Hedgelaying is physically demanding and provides a great outdoor gym for a full body workout. The team would welcome new members who would like to learn a new skill, so get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org if it sounds like a craft for you! No experience is necessary although manual dexterity is an advantage.