Hedge Laying

There is a joy to hedge laying and anyone who does it, or watches it being done, is rarely immune – it’s not difficult to see why. A laid hedge, whether it be the impressive staked and bound ‘bullock hedge’ of the Midlands, or the more modest banked and ditched variety of the West Country, is a rural sculpture, a piece of land art.

Under the hedger’s billhook, the old boundary is tamed, shaped, given body and form. Done well, the effect is like something punkish and unruly given a decent haircut. But the beauty goes deeper than mere surface: in laying an old hedge one is reinvigorating the boundary, creating a stock-proof barrier and a springboard for new growth.

All positive stuff. But being first and foremost a charcoal burner, my satisfaction goes beyond hedge husbandry. For while this practice gives me paid work and a living during the winter, it also provides me with the means by which I make a summer income. Let me explain.

The first task for any hedger is to cut out much of what is in front of him. Walk down a hedge which is being laid and you’ll see plenty of material lying nearby. Some of this will be brash, the frothy stuff from the ends of branches, but there’ll also be more substantial material among the drifts. I have no need for the brash, but the larger wood is a welcome harvest: hazel, ash, thorn, field maple – all great material for charcoal. Often the landowner just wants the ‘waste’ removed, and I am able to take the wood on for free. It is this elegance of fit between work¬†and seasons which is most satisfying.