Hedge laying course helps revive Iron Age tradition
11 March 2013
The word hedge comes from the Ancient English hege or Anglo-Saxon haga and refers to the management of hedgerows for boundary markers, shelter and barriers to keep livestock in and enemies out. As agriculture developed, the function of hedgerows steered more towards stock barriers. During the 19th century the introduction of barbed wire and the demands for more intensive farming methods left many hedgerows neglected or replaced.
The recognition of important hedgerows, some of which date back to the Iron Age, and the 23 per cent decline of hedgerow length in Great Britain between 1984 and 1990 lead to their protection in 1997 under Hedgerow Regulations.
Interest in the traditional craft of hedge laying has been revived thanks to a free course run by the New Forest Land Advice Service.
A group of Commoners and land owners have been taught how to enhance their boundaries using techniques dating back thousands of years to the Iron Age – ensuring hedgerows are retained as a valuable feature in the landscape.
Well maintained hedges are functional and practical, acting as a stock proof barrier on its own or in combination with fencing.
The hedges are also crucial habitats for native plants and wildlife such as nesting birds, dormice, hedgehogs and many insects. They are also corridors for animals to move across fields and between woodland, whilst bats use them as road maps for navigation.
The New Forest Land Advice Service brought in professional hedge layer Andrew Birnie (corr) and organised two free courses in February and March thanks to funding from the Sustainable Development Fund through the New Forest National Park Authority.
At Hazel Copse Farm in Beaulieu, 20 volunteers including a new generation of Commoners laid 70 metres of hedge in a day.
Robert Bridle, 17, a Commoner from the Minstead area, said: ‘ I’ve taken the skills I’ve learned on the course to lay hedges on my own holding. It’s good for the land and wildlife and to maintain the character of the New Forest.’
Land Advice Service Advisor Rhys Morgan said: ‘The response to the course has been very enthusiastic. It’s lovely to think that a tradition going back thousands of years to the Iron Age, or beyond, is still being used today.’
Hedges are laid over the winter when vegetation is at its thinnest and to avoid the bird breeding season from 1 March to 31 August. Typically hedges should be laid every seven to 10 years in order to ensure they stay thick and bushy.
Further hedge laying courses will be held again from the autumn. A small charge is likely next time. If you’re interested in joining the course, contact Rhys Morgan on 01590 646688 or email email@example.com. You can also find out more at www.nflandadvice.org.uk