11 January 2012

A laid-back approach

The way we manage the hedges on the meadows depends on the type of hedge, the wildlife that it supports, its purpose and possible constraints like whether there is machinery access or regrowth is likely to be damaged by rabbits or deer. Sometimes, a hedge can be kept in good shape by occasional mechanical trimming, whilst other hedges such as those with a lot of elm are best rejuvenated by coppicing.
At Martin's Meadows, a number of the hedges are maintained in rotation by hedge-laying or plashing. This technique is historically associated with the Midlands rather than Suffolk, but it has some advantages that we have found particularly valuable :
  • Once laid the hedge makes a stock proof barrier which is useful for the internal hedges that are not sheep fenced
  • It is a good way of thickening up the base of young planted hedges or gapped up hedges, encouraging shooting from low down
  • As much of the material remains 'laid' within the hedge, it retains a structure suitable for nesting birds (in contrast it may be 2-3 years before coppice regrowth makes suitable nesting again)
  • The regrowth seems to be less vulnerable to rabbit damage than coppice stools as the laid 'tops' (especially when spiny like blackthorn or hawthorn) give some protection against rabbit nibbling

As can be seen from the pictures, suitable hedge plants are cut near the base, but not right through, allowing the stem to be'laid' sideways at an angle and the tops are 'hedged' in using stakes.

In the spring, the new shoots vigorously sprout along the length of the 'laid' stem, rapidly creating a dense network of twigs and branches.

Much of the hedge-laying at Martin's Meadows is done either by the volunteer warden team or the Suffolk Wildlife Trust mid-week volunteer team. Between them, they have done some great work and it is good to see this traditional technique being used to such good effect. I'm particularly grateful to Glyn who volunteers with the wardens. He has considerable hedge-laying expertise and has generously given of both his time and knowledge to achieve really good results.

Picture of Glyn contemplating the next hedge-laying move (picture by Paul Chapman, volunteer warden)

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