Laying hedges for Wildlife
Rachel Murphy writes:
Tuesday 8th February 2022 saw four keen members of the local community meet at Long Mead Wildlife Site to be tutored in the art of hedge laying by Toby Swift of the Wychwood Forest Trust, with support from Wild Oxfordshire and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England. We were all able try our might and muscle using traditional tools on the large and largely hawthorn hedge of at least 25 years old that runs along the south boundary of Long Mead. This hedge is very tall and thin at the bottom, and therefore does not provide an effective stock barrier, nor does it offer much protection to nesting birds. It is by laying such a hedge that it can be totally rejuvenated, and its ecological value increased.
Some of the trees were too big to lay and had to be coppiced low to the ground, from whence they will sprout come spring. Those trees suitable for laying then had to be carefully pleached, i.e. cut into with a billhook until there was just enough bark and phloem still attaching the tree to the roots to keep the plant alive, and then lay the tree down without snapping the remaining bark. With trees this tall it was not an easy job and often the branches were interlocked with neighbouring trees and required considerable pruning.
Our attempts were not always successful, but by the end of the day we had laid 20m of hedge and it looked totally transformed, with the trees carefully laid down on each other and their branches woven together to increase the density of the hedge. To provide an attractive finish to our work we harvested hazel stakes and binders from the copse at Long Mead to hold the newly laid hedge in place. This was a physically arduous day, but one that produced a most satisfying result!