Hedgelaying is for everybody! (Including Women)

DSCF2103After completing the four day hedgelaying course I was very pleased with myself. For years I have assisted on courses, cleared out undergrowth from the hedge, moved tools, set up shelters and made tea! But I did not get stuck in and actually pleach and lay the hedge. I was convinced it would be too physically hard and the thorns were off putting.

After my experience I would say hedgelaying is for everybody, whatever age or gender, we are all capable. There is something magical about the look of a laid hedge and even more magical when you have done it yourself. You do get an intimate knowledge of the hedge and how it works, the words woodland corridor come to life and have meaning. If we go slowly enough the ways come back to us as if it was embedded somewhere in our brains ready to be used once more, whether you are male or female!

While marketing the hedRST - image onlygelaying and coppicing courses, Rural Skills Trust aimed to encourage women in particular to learn hedgelaying, knowing that the men would arrive anyway. We borrowed an image from a great poster taken from the WWII campaign used to recruit for the land army. There was the land army girl holding her farm tool asking for help. We changed it to a hedge tool and rephrased it as ‘We Need More Hedgelayers!’

On Monday morning there were four of us, 3 men and one woman. After the preliminary talk and tour of the hedge line and the important risk assessment we all got stuck in clearing out the hedge. Clearing out a neglected hedge is hard and you have to be right in the bottom of the hedge cutting out bramble and dog rose. By lunchtime the next day I had cleared a good stretch of hedge. Bob the instructor suggested I start laying, so I did. I gathered a range of tools. I started cutting away. It was very satisfying to pleach the hawthorn; the wood is hard and if you don’t get the angle right it bounces off. But when you have sharp tools and persevere the tree breaks off down the length of its base. This is when you really have to drive your billhook down into that gap. A thin strip levers off and bends over, I then had to get in close and steer the tree down the hedge line. Wow it didn’t snap, time to stand back and admire it while I find the pruning saw to cut off and tidy the pleach. I found the small to medium hawthorn to be ok and pavstoolscontrollable.

Finally I tackled some larger stems and found even the largest billhook called the ‘Yorkshire billhook’ unable to cut deep enough. Bob suggested I used an axe and I had to work really hard to get it to peel over, then the next danger was controlling the tree because it was heavy. After I was told that I should have taken more side branches off to lighten the stem. These tips are gold when learning such skills. I didn’t lose it completely but had ripped over half of the pleach off. It still had enough to live on for a while. I got tired slowed down had a chat with the other students. I walked around the field foraged some tasty apples in the hedge and looked from a distance at my work. I felt very pleased.

Nearing the end of the course after surveying everybody’s’ work we all had completed a good bit of hedge. The youngest who had a strong set of shoulders completed the most and planned to find hedgelaying work. The oldest was slower but precise in his work and had an interest in laying hedges for the conservation value. My progress was somewhere in between, I was tired but had no injuries just a few minor prods with the hawthorn.


Coppicing Courses Autumn 2014

November 3rd-5th and November 24th-26th – Cost £90

Why go on this Course?  

IMAG0880Coppicing produces wood fuel which is CO2 neutral. If you coppice a tree and burn the wood it puts CO2 into the atmosphere. Ten or 15 years later the tree has re-grown, and put the same amount of carbon from the air into the tree. It stored the energy of the sun ready to cut and burn again. Regular coppicing will also produce materials suitable for a whole range of products which are 100% biodegradable: small poles for building structures, hurdles, thatching spars, hedge stakes and binders, frame baskets, plant supports,  turned stools, chairs, pegs, handles and  the list is endless! The wildlife and plant value are also enhanced by letting in more light and allowing new growth on the woodland floor. The 3 day course will be a basic introduction into coppice management. No prior skill or experience are needed.

What will you learn on the course?

How to identify the main native broadleaved trees Basic principles of the coppice cycle Coppice products and their uses Practice how to cut a coppice with traditional axes and billhooks. Setting up a cord Coppicing and climate change.

Who will be teaching you? 

 shavinghorses 023Bob Smith is an experienced tutor in traditional rural skills including coppice management, hedge-laying, green woodworking and yurt making. He has worked on environmental projects for 20 years in particular setting up a rural skills school in West Wales where he co-wrote and help deliver a 6 month sustainable rural skills apprentice scheme.

Where will it take place?  

Outdoor and wet weather clothing and footwear are required. All tools will be provided or bring your own. We will be working on a small local farm near Newcastle Emlyn, West Wales. A shelter will be provided near the work site for inclement weather. Please contact us if you have any further questions.

For more info please email or phone Jules Wagstaff Mob 07964530436

Email deassart@btinternet.com  Website http://www.ruralskillstrust.org

Please email or phone Jules Wagstaff Mob 07964530436 Email deassart@btinternet.com

Hedgelaying Course at Bronhydden Fawr, Pentrecagel

Rural Skills Trust has been putting on Hedgelaying courses on a local small farm in Newcastle Emlyn.


Over the 4 days of the course each person managed to clear out a section of hedge, lay the hedge plants into a new hedge, find and harvest materials for staking and binding, and finally stake and bind a section of hedge. The learning approach is, of course, mostly learning by doing, with a short ‘talking’ session on assessing risks. Those interested in gaining hedge-laying work were given further advice on the types of hedge likely to be found in this area and a guide on pricing the job.

There was a wide range of traditional edged tools available to practice with. The instructor also gave sessions describing the different types of tools available, described their particular and special uses and encouraged each person to have a go with the various types and weights available. Hedgelaying is perfectly achievable by people with a wide range of strengths, especially if you chose the right tool.


The length of hedge we tackled on the course had been laid previously, but probably not for 20 years. On the four days we concentrated on the hedgelaying operation. The hedge required further hedgerow renovation to form a proper hedge barrier which would have involved some new planting and the banks re-battering.  As a place for learning the skills of hedge-laying it was, however, an excellent location! We are in the process of developing a hedgerow renovation course which will involve the wider skills and knowledge to bring back to life an ailing hedge and bank so watch out for this in next seasons events.

The impact on the environment?

The results from the finished part are really impressive. The different species of hedge plants – mostly hawthorn here – together with the occasional hazel and elm tree have been shaped and laid to form a barrier.  This will develop over the next growing season back into a thick hedge, providing an effective barrier for stock and a dense, deep protective corridor for flora and fauna. The brambles and dog rose will soon return too!

The section here has been regularly staked and bound with hazel. This helps the hedge maintain its structure during the first couple of years after re-laying.

P1040670What is particularly striking about the laid hedge is the clearing out and setting free of young trees. The elm tree pictured here has been cleared of encumbering brambles and thorn and over the next decade will hopefully grow into a young mature tree, standing in the hedge.

We’ll be back up to Bronhydden Fawr to finish the stretch we started next week.