An opportunity to help with hedge laying with the National Trust at their Ravenscar property.
A hedge is laid or plashed to prevent it becoming thin and open at its base allowing livestock to force their way through. Every area in Britain has its own particular style suited to its resources and environment. So we have Devon, South of England and the Midland Bullock styles for instance. And of course we have own own Yorkshire style, thing and low, laid close to the ground. Other styles like the Midland Bullock are topped with flexible hazel rods or ethers weaved between the upright stakes. It makes a stronger, and some say neater, hedge capable of withstanding large cattle. As coppicing long straight rods of hazel is not easy in windswept Yorkshire and with sheep being more widespread, weavers are not used in the Yorkshire style.
Hedges have probably been around since man first settled down and started cultivating the land although archaeological evidence is difficult to find. Traces of what is believed to be a hedge has been buried beneath Roman fort near Glasgow. Hedges are mentioned in several Roman texts and Julius Caesar considered a plashed hedge in Belgium to be a major obstacle. In Medieval times most villages and would have had hedges around paddocks and closes but it was towards the end of the 18th Century that the planting of new hedges reached its peak with the Enclosure Acts.
The hedgelayer’s traditional tool was a billhook, which seems to me to be lethal piece of kit, so I played safe with a bow saw and secateurs. But with the sight of billhooks I can’t get out of my mind The Two Ronnies classic sketch, Four Candles.
Two days ago I posted a photo of a farmer flaying a hedge, giving it a trim using a large lawnmower on an arm on a tractor. If this winter task is neglected the hedging plants, blackthorn or hawthorn, grow tall and spindly, losing their lower branches. Eventually weaker plants die off and a few trees dominate. The result is a lonely row of trees, a not uncommon sight in the countryside. In Northamptonshire, a hedge that has been neglected this way is called a bullfinch.
Hedges are not necessarily bushes or trees. In Essex a hedgerow can be a narrow wood and in Cornwall the term hedge often refers to an earth and stone bank but which is sometimes happens to be topped with bushes.
Very old hedges also show another characteristic which is noticeable when it has been neglected. A bank of earth builds up at the base of the hedge. In Cumbria this is known as a cop or kess. If the land has been under plough there is a gradual movement of soil downhill with each ploughing forming a lynchet. Even if the land has not been ploughed, on steep ground there is still a tendency for soil to build up at hedge bottoms (or walls for that matter) under gravity and rain run off.
This particular old hedge is at Rye Banks on the lower slopes of Roseberry Topping.
National Trust rangers and volunteers complete the planting of 4,000 saplings for a new hedge along Roseberry Topping north west boundary with fields known as Rye Bank. The work has been funded by the North York Moors National Park Traditional Boundary Scheme. Compared to the existing fence the new hedge, once matured, will provide a much better habitat for wildlife. The majority of the plants are hawthorn but blackthorn, maple, hazel and dog rose are also included.