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How to Lay a Hedge ~ by Angus

How to Lay a Hedge

Hedges are an important part of our countryside, yet they are functional too.The use of hedges goes back hundreds of years (perhaps more) and is an effective way to keep in livestock and mark boundaries.They also have very important benefits for wildlife as they are home to many nesting birds, small mammals and many insects.Apart from being a habitat they also provide a corridor for the movement of animals across field systems and between woodland areas.Landowners need to maintain them but sometimes they get out of control (the hedges rather than the land owners) and once they reach over 4 metres in height they start to encroach upon fields and become “gappy” at the base.It is at this point that they need to be laid – ideally by an experienced hedge layer.

The trees that do well in hedges are hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, hazel oak, sycamore and ash as well as some other species.Different species will require different techniques but broadly the approach is as described here and illustrated on woodlandstv.co.uk.We were lucky enough to film Neil Sands demonstrating and John Wilson explaining as they laid a badly overgrown hedge at the Weald Woodfair in East Sussex.John has been a member of the South of England Hedge Laying Society for 25 years, since its founding.The Society has about 150 members and organises regular training sessions, competitions and demonstrations.

In the film they explain that this is not a summer activity: not only do the leaves become more of a problem but there is a risk to nesting birds.Like oysters, the right months for hedge laying have an “r” in the month (September to April, though usually finishing by March).

The process starts with removing the surplus material – twigs, old leaves, debris, brambles, rusty wire.The stem to be laid needs to be selected and about a foot (30cm) off the ground it should be cut almost right through so that it can be bent over and laid at about 45 degrees.Higher up, nearer the top of the hedge, the stem is then cut at an angle.This stem is called a “pleacher” and it is these pleachers which will grow back vigorously with vertical shoots making the hedge livestock-proof.In the Midlands hedge laying is called “plashing” and the French call it “plaisse”.

Stakes are driven in vertically at 18 inch intervals in the centre line of the hedge.The binders are woven between the stakes with ends wedged behind the stakes.Both the stakes and binders are usually from hazel.The final height of the hedge is about 4ft and the stakes will be trimmed off to the same height to give an extremely tidy finish.

Tools needed are: a billhook, a small axe, a small chainsaw (perhaps, and if you are qualified to use it), wire cutters, thick gloves going over the wrists and a sharpening stone.A first aid kit is needed too – even when things go well this can be something of a “blood sport”!

Materials:

you will need stakes for the verticals, which should be sturdy enough to hammer in, about 5 ft 6 ins high and about 2ins in diameter (ie about 1.7metres by 50mm).  For the horizontals you need much longer and more flexible poles called “binders” which should be about 10ft long and about 1½ ins in thickness (ie about 3 metres by 40mm).

If you are the owner of a woodland, you might have an overgrown hedge which needs laying.If you get it done by a contractor it should cost a little under £10 per linear metre including materials.A good hedge layer in the right conditions might lay 20-25 metres in a day.It is possible to get a recommendation from one of the organisations connected with hedge laying or, better still, you can try it yourself.There are a lot of hedge laying courses available that can be found by typing “hedge laying course” into a search engine.Interestingly they all seem to happen on Saturdays in the winter with a typical course taking three Saturdays in succession.

Although hedges are now well protected and you need permission to remove one or even create a gap in one, they haven’t always been officially appreciated.Until the 1970s the government paid grants for their removal, arguing that larger fields were more efficient and essential to justify the new and larger tractors.Nowadays however new hedges are encouraged and grants are available for planting, but of course this increases the need for maintenance – hence the need for more hedge layers.

Driving (or even cycling) around the countryside you will be surprised how many recently laid hedges there are once you are on the lookout for them.You may also start to spot those in need of attention and the billhook.

What’s your experience with hedges and hedge laying?

Posted in: Practical Guides ~ On: 25 September, 2008

64 comments so far

Graeme
20 January, 2014

Thanks Chris. I thought not but just hoped.I will have to trim them down and hope they will thicken up in time.

brian harper
29 April, 2014

Hi where can i find a hedge layer to make a good job at a good price?

Sean Spooner
29 April, 2014

I have a blackthorn hedge that is very leggy, thicker at the top than at the bottom. Will laying the hedge encourage the basal growth to produce new shoots as effectively as simply lopping the height or is the laid branches that I will rely to thicken the hedge at its new height?

Tom
29 April, 2014

A laid hedge will be much thicker owing to the proximity of the stakes and interwoven laid branches, that is why they were good for livestock.

Chris
29 April, 2014

Sean, in theory it will grow back a bit bushier if you simply cut it all back to ground level as it will get more light, but in practice I find coppicing brings a greater chance of the trees dying. Laid branches are only there temporarily, it’s the young shoots from the base that will make the future hedge.

Chris
29 April, 2014

Brian, by asking around locally – but not until November!

Charles G
24 May, 2014

Hi, what’s the best way to build a brash hedge?

Judy Heap
4 July, 2014

What height does my new native hedge have to reach before it can be layered?

Thank you.

Rebecca
9 July, 2014

Hi Judy

It depends what height you would like the resulting laid hedge to be. For a 1m high laid hedge where the pleachers (cut stems) are laid at an angle of about 40 deg., I like the height of the hedge to be about 1.6m before cutting. If you would like your laid hedge to be taller, the stems need to be correspondingly taller.

Thank you
J☺hn

John Shepherd
9 July, 2014

Above comment is from our Hedgelaying Tutor, next course 24th October.

Bernard Swales
29 August, 2014

Can I lay a willow hedge, and if so where can I get the stakes and binders?

Rebecca
3 September, 2014

Response from our Hedgelaying tutor John Shepherd

Hi Bernard,

Yes you can lay a willow hedge, however it is not very satisfactory.
Willow grows vigorously, which is why it is grown for biomass. Consequently it will need trimming several times a year with shears or a hedge trimmer or once a year with secateurs (a wrist aching job). Miss a year and you are asking for trouble, since many shoots will be lopper sizes and 2m+ tall . You could trim it with a tractor mounted flail mower, but this will encourage top growth to the detriment of the bottom of the hedge which will become gappy quite quickly. So yes it is possible, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
(This is based upon my observations of a laid willow hedge in a very damp location, which grew in exactly the way I expected, apart from the base, where I was surprised at the speed with which gaps formed.)
Regarding stakes and binders, I’m afraid that the best I can suggest is to search the internet for a Coppice group local to yourself or look on http://www.woodnet.org.uk .
If you are located in West Kent or East Sussex http://www.underwoodsman.co.uk/ can supply stakes and binders (Disclosure: I occasionally work with Mr. Underwoodman (John Waller)).
If you have a source of willow, then 3m+ willow shoots make fantastic binders and you can either buy the stakes from a woodsman or use sweet chestnut tree stakes. (Willow is not suitable as stakes owing to its willingness to put down roots and grow.)

Bernard Swales
4 September, 2014

Thanks for that Rebecca it has given me a lot to think about

Robert Mansfield
5 September, 2014

I have been a hedge layer for almost 17 years! If anyone needs a hedge laying in the Shropshire area let me know on this forum.

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