What is hedgelaying and why is it important?
Hedge laying is a method of rejuvenating a hedge. Rejuvenation through coppicing (cutting back) or laying takes advantage of the broadleaf tree species ability to make new growth after being cut back. New growth from ground level is effectively rejuvenating the hedge. This process if carried out regularly (approx. every 20-30 years) can extend the life span of most hedgerow species almost indefinitely.
Hedge laying is the art of cutting hedgerow stems partly through near ground level so that they will bend without breaking and will continue to grow. The laid stems are arranged to form a stock proof barrier. New growth comes from the cut stump rejuvenating the hedge and thickening up the base.
Hedges are largely man made features of the countryside. Much of our current hedgerow network has been established for over 100 years. Many of the hedgerow stems are at the end of their natural life span and since most hedgerow species (especially whitethorn) don’t reproduce well in the shade many of our hedgerows are dying out.
Also a lot of hedges no longer fulfill their basic function as barriers to stock having become gappy or bare at the base. Hedge laying can restore many of these hedges. A well laid hedge provides a habitat for many wild birds, plants and insects.
The technique of hedge laying was widespread in Ireland (see table) in the middle of the twentieth century but the practice has largely died out. The revival of interest in hedgerows through the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) has resulted in a resurgence in this valuable traditional country craft. The new Agri-Environment Options Scheme contains an €8 per meter grant to have hedges laid which should be of assistance to farmers and landowners in continuing to improve their hedges.