Whilst many regard hedgerows as a natural feature of our countryside they are really a traditional form of field boundary and enclosure that only exist as a result of deliberate planting and subsequent maintenance.
Hedges serve to keep stock in a pasture and out of crop fields. They also provide shade for stock, protection from the wind for crops and stock, guard against soil erosion and provide both a valuable wildlife habitat and corridor, not just in the hedge itself but also any associated ditch and bank.
Hawthorn is the most common hedgerow shrub, prized for its hardiness and its dense thorns. Blackthorn is the second most common hedgerow shrub. In spring blackthorn puts out its white blossom before its leaves whilst hawthorn is the other way round. Other typical hedgerow plants are hazel, elm, ash and field maple.
The oldest hedges are normally the most varied and these are typically found alongside old green lanes and parish boundaries.
Vigorous, healthy hedges require only regular trimming to keep them to the required height and width. Today this is universally achieved using tractor mounted hedgecutting equipment. With care this can achieve most satisfactory results as regrowth in subsequent years will prove.
as hedges grow, they gradually become more tree-like
and less bush-like; gaps tend to appear lower down
and they cease to provide an effective barrier. At
this point, the hedge should be allowed to grow
sufficiently tall that it can be laid, both to fill
in the gaps and to ensure the long term viability of
the hedge by promoting vigorous regrowth from the
base of the hedge.
Hedge laying is a traditional method of hedge management and has been practised for hundreds of years. It involves cutting nearly all the way through the base of the stems and laying them over at an angle of about 35 degrees.
The cut stems, called pleachers, are tucked tightly together and staked vertically and bound horizontally for strength to produce a strong hedge. The hedge layer uses a fearsome array of axes and billhooks and normally stakes and binds the hedge with hazel.
are left as clean and tidy as possible since this is
where regrowth is most desired and eventually a new
hedge will grow from the already established root
system. In the meantime, the laid pleachers act as a
living barrier as well as protecting the regrowth
from browsing stock. Where the cycle of laying and
trimming is repeated hedges can thrive for hundreds
of years. The cost of maintaining hedges is broadly
equivalent to that of fencing which has to be
completely replaced periodically.