Why are hedgerows a heroic feature in the landscape?
You may see hedgerows in the landscape when you're out walking, but have you ever wondered about why they are there, and why they are so important?
History of Hedgerows
The first hedgerows appeared when woodlands were cleared to make room for fields and sometimes strips of trees and shrubs were left to make boundaries. Between 1604 and 1914 Enclosure Acts were enforced, to put boundaries on land to mark out the individual holdings. This transformed the land from open and communal to being separated by planted hedgerows and walls.
Farmers planted rows of trees and shrubs not only to separate and mark out farm and parish boundaries; but also to control the roaming of livestock and to provide them with shelter from poor weather. Popular species planted as hedgerows include hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, hornbeam, dogwood and dog rose. Other species such hazel, ash and oak are sometimes used.
During the Second World War, the government encouraged the removal of hedgerows to increase field sizes so production of food could be increased and the UK could become self-sufficient. Financial incentives were put in place to encourage removal of hedgerows and new, bigger, more powerful machinery was created which was too big to be used in small fields. Other factors such as changes in farming practices and development has also caused the loss of hedgerows. This resulted in a huge loss in hedgerows throughout the country, and therefore a huge decline in species that relied on them, especially birds and dormice. To find out more about the history of hedgerows go to
Removal of hedgerows is now recognised as having had a negative impact on the landscape, biodiversity and natural flood management and now more planting has started across the country. Government changed their financial incentives from removal to re-planting of hedgerows to try and regain the habitat and increase species populations.
Hedgerows that are left unmanaged will grow into a line of trees which makes it a poor habitat for many species, see picture on the right. Small mammals and birds will not use tree lines to nest or shelter as they are too open to predation. Livestock do not get much shelter from a line of trees either, and generally if it is used as a boundary, farmers will end up fencing along the line of trees to make it stock-proof.
Laying the trees in the hedgerow is the traditional way of managing hedgerows and creating a living stock-proof barrier. By laying a hedge it creates an amazing habitat for a wide range of species from mice, to hedgehogs and birds. It creates a wildlife corridor for species to move throughout the landscape which decreases the chances of disease, population fluctuations, starvation and inbreeding. Hedgerows are also used for nesting sites, food, shelter and hiding from predators. Hedgerows also double up as shelter for stock and reduce wind speeds which helps with reducing erosion of soils.
How do you lay a Hedge?
To be able to lay a hedge, firstly a cut called a pleacher must be made at the base and to one side of the tree depending on which way it is to be laid. All hedgerows are laid up hill, although if it is a hedgerow alongside a road it is always laid in the direction of the traffic.
Using hand tools is the traditional way of hedgelaying. Tools used include an axe and billhook, which are used to create the pleachers. Bow saw, pruning saw and loppers are used to trim the tree back and cut off the left over stump – a feature called a heal. To see pictures of these tools follow this link .
Once the tree has been laid into the hedge, a diagonal cut towards the roots of the tree can be made to smaller branches which stick out too much from the hedge. By doing this it is representing the pleacher cut of the tree trunk and allows the branch to be bent towards the hedge to make the laid hedge thicker and denser so that it is more stock proof.
Professional hedgelayers use chainsaws to lay the hedges as it is quicker and more cost effective. The chainsaw does the same cuts, so this picture is showing the pleacher cut being put into the tree trunk.
This is a picture of the final laid hedge. The lighter coloured parts at the bottom of the tree trunk is the pleacher cut which enables the tree to be laid. Stakes are then put in about every meter on alternate sides, to retain the hedge. The material from the trees is used to give the hedge thickness. Everything in this hedge is still attached to the trees so it creates a living boundary.
All cuts that are made to the tree, will
encourage the tree to re-grow, and therefore
make the hedge thicker and more stock-proof.
There are more than thirty different styles of hedgelaying across the UK. Each style has been developed over many years to cope with the climate of the area, different farming practices and the type of trees and shrubs that grow in the hedge.
The Lancashire & Westmorland hedge style; which is used in the Pendle Area, need to be well maintained to retain both cattle and sheep. Wooden stakes are placed about 18″ apart on alternate sides of the laid hedge with the pleachers (cut stems) layed between at approx 45°. The pleachers are woven around the stakes and the hedge finished to a height of at least 3′ 6”. To find out about other common styles and the pictures of them follow this link https://www.hedgelaying.org.uk/pg/info/styles.aspx
If Hedgelaying has interested you…
Come along to the Bowland Hedgelaying Grand Prix Competition, on Saturday 2nd March at Cockshotts Farm in Sabden, BB7 9EH.
Come see the hedgelayers in action, join a guided walk around Sabden Valley at 10.30am, get involved in a family friendly nature trail, and have a go at hedgelaying and drystone walling. Refreshments and local stalls available all day!
For more information visit:
Want to get involved in the landscape and join our volunteer group?
The Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership offer a variety of volunteering opportunities at various locations.
· Want some experience of dry stone walling, archaeology, conservation management or working with schools?
· Got some spare time this year and love your local landscape?
· Love sharing your stories and researching about local historic figures?
· Want to keep fit, learn new skills and assist your local community?
If you answered YES to any of the above then head to our website to find opportunities for you to #GetInvolved