The conservation volunteers have been helping to rejuvenate the boundary hedge at the Old Dairy Farm on the B4506, by having it “laid” – encouraging new shoots and new life into a hedge which has seen better days. At one point post and rails were added to reinforce the boundary which dates back to Tudor times when Elizabeth 1st owned the property. It is currently the only laid hedge on the Estate and an ancient one to boot. Other farmland hedges on the Estate have been laid in previous centuries but probably not during the Trust’s tenure.
Hedge laying is a country skill practised mainly in the UK and Ireland, with many named regional variations in style and technique – Midland, Devonshire, Derbyshire, Somerset. Practised for centuries a well laid hedge looks appealing but the main aim is to create an impenetrable boundary or enclosure for sheep or cattle. Positioned on the edge of the main road, this is an ideal spot to showcase this rural craft – an Ashridge artefact worthy of restoration – it needs a haircut!
An artefact in need of restoration
A walk along a hedgerow is always full of delight for anyone who takes time to walk slowly and observe. No two stretches of hedge are ever quite the same, though they tend to fall into types based on the soil, acidity, moisture levels, climate and age, and what was originally planted and whether or not there is a ditch and a bank. A hedge is a similar habitat to a woodland edge but it lacks the the potential for any interaction between the hedge itself and the woodland depths. A hedge is an edge habitat that has two sides – a hedge is all edge. It is different to a woodland edge being more exposed, often drier and sunlit and therefore more nutrient rich, and attractive to wildlife – a home to the declining hedgehog. As a barrier it throws up some interesting fault lines with a badger run here or a deer gap there which can be spotted by the observant walker, especially in winter when snow covers the ground.
It will take many years before we see a bushy boundary emerging as a haven for birdlife. This appears to be a long term project offering plenty of future work for the volunteers, since it could take another five years to complete based upon present progress. There is only a short window of time in the year when the work can be carried out – hedge-laying should be carried out between January, when the berries have been exhausted by the visiting thrushes and blackbirds, and April at the start of the bird nesting season.
All you ever wanted to know about hedge laying;- The National Trust in Buttermere