Thursday, 21 January 2016

Hedge Laying The Traditional Way (at minus 6 degrees), and Dormouse Goings On

Beetle Larvae tracks on wood, in case you were wondering.

I took a detour early yesterday morning and stopped at Mottisfont to capture the light coming through the Plane trees and sparkling on the bull rushes. It was so fresh and clean and radiating goodness that I wished I could have stayed there longer. Mist was twisting off the surface of the Test as it wound its way lazily through the water meadows, and everything was encased in lacy drapings of fine crystal ice.

Alas (well, not really) a day of hedge laying lay ahead so I only dallied a few minutes. It was -6 when we started and it was f-f-f-freezing. I had five layers on and I didn't really lose any at all during the day. We warmed up with a bit of sawing, as you do, and the bonfire helped too, but mostly it was ch-ch-ch-chilly all day long.

The hedge was rather bedraggled and unloved it has to be said, but by the time we'd finished one section at least was looking much better. The equivalent of being given a good bath with lots of shampoo before being turned out by a tailor with impeccable tastes.

Hedge laying is satisfying work and the end result looks so much better than those poor hedges that have been subjected to vicious flailing from farm machinery. One of the benefits of laying a hedge is that you keep the nuts/ seeds/ berries in place for the birds. Flailing removes them entirely, and because some woodland species have a two-year growth for fruiting, a flailed hedge is often no good to wildlife the following year either. Flailed hedges will also eventually thin from the base becoming gappy, whereas a laid hedge becomes thicker from the bottom up which is better for stock control but also for wildlife. Hedges are so valuable to wildlife in so many ways (providing food, shelter, breeding spaces, safe passage across the landscape, navigation etc etc) that they really deserve good management.

When you lay a hedge the object is to pleach the stems of wood with an axe to the point where it will allow you to bend it down and weave it into its fellows (you can see the pleached poles in the pic above- they look a complete mess now but by spring will look a lot better). The wood must have the bark intact otherwise it will die, and it is a bit of an art to get it to the right thickness (or more accurately, thinness). Trees tell you when they're ready to move and they protest when they aren't, and we become reasonably well-versed in the language of wood as we worked with the hedge yesterday. Different parts of the country have different methods for laying a hedge, ours was the Southern one where you lay double stems in from different sides (does that make sense?).

We were watched by various Interested Birds all day. Most noticeably the Robin (of course) who kept up company by bobbing up and down in the branches above our heads, but also Greenfinches, Fieldfare, Goldfinches, Blackbirds and two Buzzards who kept circling above us gazing down to see what we were doing. There was also a Rather Fat Vole who kept waddling up and down the hedge line, doubtless fed up with all the stamping feet treading in his breakfast.

I whizzed home through the gloaming in time to see a patient, wolfed supper down and headed off again, this time to the Hampshire Dormouse Group's AGM. As the temperature plunged to -4, I got stuck behind the gritting lorry who proceeded to drive the entire length of the not-insubstantial Roman road between Stockbridge and Sutton Scotney at a speed of approximately 25 mph, showering my car with grit the whole way. After five minutes the windscreen was impossible to see through, and it was then that I realised the water had run out of the washers. There was one corner remaining that you could just about see out of, so I peered through that until I could pull into the garage. Then I couldn't remember how to open the bonnet, so chucked a bottle of water over the windscreen instead (praying it wouldn't freeze), zipped back into the car to get the wipers working and drove the remainder of the way with my fingers crossed.

The upshot of the meeting is that I am hoping to get some Dormouse boxes up in the hazel along the lane soon. We've an ancient woodland (or rather, ancient semi-natural) at the top of the lane and another at the bottom (fragments of) and the hedgerow connects the two (more or less) so I am hopeful we may get evidence of small gingery furry folk this summer. I've bought a trail cam which will also work in the dark so will think about putting that up near one of the boxes to monitor it. Exciting.

Right, must go- the kitchen is being surveyed at lunch time and the house is a tip but I don't have time to hoover everywhere so I've rather sluttishly only done the bits that show and will just hope he doesn't need to go anywhere else :o) The only problem with this is that between hoovering and putting the hoover away, T and P have shredded one of their Christmas Trees all over the floor :o( I may just leave it and remark gaily about what naughty dogs they are :o)

Hope you are all well?


ps- the Duck was lovely (1.5 hours and cooked to perfection) but a 2kg bird barely fed us both and at £8 I call that steep (and that was a half-price special offer!) so I doubt we'll do it again.


  1. Agree about the duck - there is never a lot of meat on one, but nice for a treat now and again.
    That hedge-laying looks superby done - such an art.

  2. How lovely to see hedge laying done the traditional way. My Grandad was a hedger and ditcher in Hampshire back in the day and spent a lot of his working life laying hedges like that. I know the road well where you got stuck behind the grittier - not fun! Keep us up-to-date on the progress with the dormouse boxes, they are such beautiful little creatures but I haven't seen one for years. xx

  3. Ah that frost and the hedge laying hits the spot, two of my favourite things. I hate those great hedge trimming things, so brutal! I do love the idea of a Dormouse AGM, I can't help it but it makes me think of Beatrix Potter, so sweet. x

    1. I saw this, this eve and thought of you (I do really like his photography but I think yours is better ;))

  4. Hey CT,
    Upon reading this, I realise that I have missed a post of yours. Blogger does this to me sometimes. There's nothing as lovely as a hedge, and it must be very interesting to get involved with the building and maintenance of one. Thanks for your advice re the robin. I thought it may have been showing off to some lucky lady too, but will always bow to your expertise.
    Leanne xx

  5. Robins are so curious, even in my little garden one of the robins has stopped flying off when I go up to put seed out. I've seen the traditional hedge laying on Countryfile and it's a beautiful sight.

  6. I didn't follow much of what you wrote but I do understand. It looks wonderful.
    I have eaten Peking duck but like you said a whole one never has enough meat, we always have two for a dinner. I usually only cook duck breasts for special dinners.

    cheers, parsnip and thehamish

  7. Go for the naughty dog trick, I often blame messy teenagers especially those ones who aren't around. There is so little meat on duck isn't there, I'm shredding a couple of duck breasts tomorrow - far simpler & quick too! Loved reading about the hedge laying & the birds watching you all. xx

  8. Ooh you do get up to some interesting things! Hope it warms up a bit for you though. x

  9. Hedges are few and far between round here, being flat, fertile farmland and the farming community sold on US farm practices. I should make it my life's work to bring hedge rows and countryside walking trails (lined with hedgerows) to my area. Hmm. Anyway, I love to look at them even thorough the blogoverse.

  10. Oh gosh, that sounds very cold indeed!!! You did great work with the hedge laying though, and I totally agree, the laid hedges look so much better than the flailed ones don't they. Hope that all went well with the kitchen man! xx

  11. Flailing is absolutely brutal isn't it, I hate to see hedges with their wood splintered and shattered. So lovely to see one laid by hand. Wonderful. Well done for braving the cold. No idea what a kitchen survey is, it puts me in mind of a wildlife survey. I hope you pass. CJ xx

  12. Thank the lord that some traditions remain. Laying a hedge is such an old much better than flailing. Good stuff. Very cold...I am slightly worried at how I am going to cope...layers and layers I fear. I'm rather hoping the menopausal hot flushes will do the rest.
    Mottisfont will soon have a Normal Thelwell exhibition on - which I am going to with my sister and mum when I am visiting. Thought I would mention it because I have a feeling his fat pony humour would appeal to you.
    You do gad around to all your groups...well done especially in such cold weather.
    Cheers to a good blog...lovely photos capturing the winter weather. Blissful.
    Sally x

  13. Yes very cold indeed ...

    I like all your photo's but your first photo is stunning.

    Keep warm

    All the best Jan

  14. I love seeing traditional crafts in action, and it's so much better when you know the benefit it gives to wildlife. Modern ways are so lazy!

  15. Dear CT
    My Dad was a good hedge layer (in the Midlands style, I believe, with a twisted top) so I do have an appreciation of proper laid hedges - they look so beautiful, are a good home for wildlife and are a practical hedge for keeping sheep/cows where they need to be. I wish that the flailing of hedges wasn't used as the hedge looks absolutely dreadful once done - it really does look like its skin has been stripped off. Thank goodness for people like you, keeping traditions going.
    Best wishes (and hope you've warmed up)

  16. Love the frosty images and good to read about hedges being laid in the traditional way :) Will be interesting to see if there are dormice nearby - do hope so :)

  17. I love to see a well laid hedge but what a COLD day you had!

  18. They do vicious flailing around here – it offends me greatly. I'd love to have a go at hedge-laying (but not in -6 temps!). Your bit about the car washer bottle made me laugh – that is exactly what I would do. Have a great weekend CT. I hope the kitchen survey goes/went well. Sam x

  19. Just the term 'flailing' conjures up the most horrific vision -- suitably so -- what a travesty. I'm nerdishly obsessed with hedges and all things pertaining to them, so this post was such a delight to read. It's good to see that hedges are still being tended in this way -- it seems it could become one of those lost arts like laying stone walls if it isn't preserved.

    How incredibly exciting to think of dormice in your lane!!! *squeeee* You'll be neighbours!!! *fingers crossed*.

    And I'm laughing at your spot vacuuming because I've done the same on more than one occasion...:)


  20. Glad you enjoyed the duck.It looks so beautiful at Mottisfont on a winter morning. Brr,It must have been freezing doing the hedge laying. I'm sure the dormouse will find their new homes. They used to have boxes in the woods near Hardy's cottage. Sarah x

  21. I love to see the hedges 'layed' properly. They are doing it more and more around my area but unfortunately there is still plenty of 'flailing' that goes on too.

  22. Lovely post, so nice to hear of proper hedge laying going on. I've seen lots of those flailed hedges around Somerset and it's sad.


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