Posted by: lensweb | November 24, 2017

LENS Hedgelayers

Try out Hedgelaying on the Nutbrook Trail. 24 November 2017 Sustrans Greener Greenways.

Solitary persons are sideing up the hedges and thrusting the brushwood in the thin places and creeps which the swine made from one ground or field into another and stopping gaps made by gleaners and labourers – Hedgelayers by David Morley

We’ve heard a lot about hedge funds although no-one seems to know what they are. However now we are all expert on hedges, thanks to Ecologist David Watson of Sustrans, the charity that’s making it easier for people to walk and cycle.

Hedgelaying is carried out in autumn or winter, outside birds nesting season and while trees are not growing. The tools of the trade were all laid out: secateurs, saws, bill hooks , cutters and wooden mallets and we were shown how to use them safely. Bill hooks have been in common usage for over 3000 years! Fluorescent yellow Sustrans tabards and protective gloves were issued, then we set to work trimming the side branches off a double row of hawthorns in a hedge by the side of the Nutbrook trail. This great 10 mile traffic free path runs between Long Eaton, Shipley Country Park and Heanor. Cyclists young and old whizzed by as we diligently shaved the hawthorn, leaving bare stems with a top knot of spindly twigs. Midland hedgelaying means that only one side of the hedge is trimmed, the other side is left for forage.

Then we were shown how to pleach the main stem, the billhook cutting through the base of the young hawthorn at 45 degrees until the satisfying crunch of split fibres as the young hawthorn keeled over down towards the centre of the hedge. The saw was then used to carefully trim the heel, to discourage fungal infection and injury. There followed a tougher battle as the laying of an older hawthorn was demonstrated, David won.

Meanwhile Sim was trying to light the Kelly Kettle.

We set to work pleaching the hawthorn, it was tough work and then the branches were tangled, the thorns were vicious and blood was drawn, making the first aid kit a very useful accessory. We stood back to admire the formerly upright, re-angled pleachers.

After the lunch break we went to collect some stakes and heathering. The stakes were good stout sticks about chest height which were then sharpened like a pencil, using the billhook. We used sawn off willow being careful to sharpen the top of the willow as, when placed in the ground upside down, the willow won’t grow. The ideal heathering would be long hazel whips, at least 2 meters, but we had to make do with notchy wobbly willow which was also a bit cracky.

Meanwhile Sim was trying to light the Kelly Kettle.

David told us about the elephants. Straight-tusked elephants probably lived in small herds of about five to 15 individuals. They preferred warm conditions and flourished during the warmer periods. It is assumed that they preferred wooded environments. The straight-tusked elephant became extinct in Britain about 115,000 years ago. Elephants feed on the leaves from the top of trees by leaning against the trees and knocking them over.  Good hedging plants like hawthorn and hazel may have developed their quick growth habit as a survival response to foraging elephants!

Heathering is used to bind a series of stakes together which all help to keep the pleachers in place and make the hedge stockproof. Heathering the hedge was like a Rubrik’s cube, some people can do it, some cannot. The stakes are carefully aligned a forearm’s length apart and knocked firmly into the ground, through the middle of the hedge. Seen as three stakes, the middle stake is the leader, the second is threaded behind first , then the heathering goes behind the leader and in front of the third stake  but somehow the heathering leads are always in front.

We didn’t get it all done but it was a lovely day, everyone had enjoyed themselves and Swan Lake couldn’t have looked more beautiful in the glittering sunlight.

I here reproduce information from the Kelly Kettle’s manufacturer’s instructions in the hope that with practice we will have boiling water for tea at our next hedge laying session on December 15th and that the manufacturer appreciates the free publicity.

The Kelly Kettle® will boil water in 3 to 5 minutes, in all weather conditions, using virtually any fuel you can find…..The Kelly Kettle is a double-walled chimney with the water contained within the wall.  Once the camp kettle is filled with water, start a very small fire in the base, set the kettle on the base and drop additional fuel such as twigs, leaves, grass down the chimney. Within a matter of minutes, the water will come to a rolling boil.  It really is that simple!

Marion Bryce 24 November 2017


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