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Why hedges can be havens for nature

Why hedges can be havens for nature

Ollie Seal, Assistant Ranger for the Central Downs team, explains the art of hedgelaying…and how it can give a big boost to nature.

Is there any better use of a hedge than to lay it? Maybe. But the benefits of doing so are phenomenal. Hedgelaying is a practice that the National Hedgelaying Society describe as ‘sympathetic management’. Certainly this traditional skill is time consuming and labour intensive but the results pay off.

In its simplest form, the craft of hedgelaying requires laying each stem of the hedge horizontally, after using a billhook to cut into the lower section of the stem to create a ‘pleach’.  These can then be kept in place using stakes and binders, making for a robust, stock and weather proof hedge. There are various regional styles ranging from a low and dense Devon style which sits atop exposed banks to the squarer Lancs style, with alternating stakes. The method that we are trained to use in the South Downs National Park is the South of England style. This requires a double layer planting which are then alternately laid, with stakes driven in 18 inches apart and then bound by lengths of flexible hazel binders. Both sides are then trimmed, creating a very neat and attractive hedge.

The secret is the creation of an excellent habitat. Where the stem has been cut, but not severed, new growth is encouraged. New stems shoot out, thickening the hedge low to the ground and creating shelter and cover for a range of wildlife from small mammals to nesting birds. This shelter not only creates a stable environment that is protected from the elements, but also from predators looking for their next meal.

These hedges can then be connected. Not only can they connect to other hedges but they can also connect to woodlands. They are “roads”, allowing wildlife to move freely and safely from one area to another. So, next time you’re out on a walk, take a look at the hedgerows around you. For sure you will see some that could benefit from being laid. But perhaps you might even see one or two that already have been – and are now oases for nature.