Trust keeps an ancient craft alive

Published: Friday, 18 December 2020

THE volunteers of the Wey & Arun Canal Trust are keeping an ancient craft alive.

hedgeLayingA small band of volunteers are keeping an ancient country craft of hedgelaying alive, and providing a valuable habitat for wildlife at the same time. The Trust's hedgelaying team has been running for 18 years, and at the end of November they resumed their weekly working party under Coronavirus-safe conditions.

The team usually works from October or November until February or March when birds begin nesting.

Continuing the hedge

This season they are laying a hedge along the canal at Loxwood, West Sussex, continuing the one they began last year. Each team member has an individual area to complete, marked out in orange paint, keeping them socially distant from one another.

The photograph above shows the new hedge being continued on the old hedge, and below the hedge that was completed last year.

The Loxwood hedge will be laid in ‘Southern Counties’ style.  According to the National Hedgelaying Society there are more than 30 different regional styles, developed to cope with the climate of an area, different farming practices and the trees and shrubs that grow there, which in West Sussex is usually native species of hawthorn, field maple, ash and oak.

last yearsUnchanged for centuries

The technique, unchanged for centuries, first involves removing brambles and excess growth from the hedgerow about to be laid.  The hedgelayer then cuts away (pleaches) the stem towards ground level and arches it over at an angle of 60 degrees, encouraging new shoots to grow straight upwards.  The ‘pleachers’ are then weaved in and out of the hazel stakes, with a stake every 21 inches.

The aim is to create a line for the eye to follow, with stakes in a row and the rolling lines of binders in between.  Even the tops of the stakes are cut with care, so they are all the same height and angle.

The result is a thing of beauty bordering the canal towpath, but importantly the practice keeps a hedge healthy and longer living, and provides both food and refuge for wildlife.

The Wey & Arun Canal Trust hedgelaying team will be working on the Loxwood hedge, opposite the Canal Centre, for the rest of the season.