Hedge laying

A newly laid Northamptonshire hedge in Grendon
A hedge about three years after being re-laid

Hedge laying is a country skill practised in the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as a few places overseas. Creating and maintaining hedges provides


The theory behind laying a hedge is easy. The practice is much harder, requiring skill and experience. The aim is to reduce the thickness of the upright stems of the hedgerow trees by cutting away the wood on one side of the stem and in line with the course of the hedge. This being done, each remaining stem is laid down towards the horizontal, along the length of the hedge.[1]

A stem which has been (or is to be) laid down in this manner is known as a "pleacher". A section of bark and some sapwood must be left connecting a pleacher to its roots in order to keep the pleacher alive—knowing how much is one part of the art of hedgelaying. The angle at which the pleach or pleacher is laid at is a factor in the "build" of a hedge - hedges are built to a height according to what purpose they are intended for. The height and condition of the trimmed stool ("stobbin" and other local names apply) is vital as this is where the strongest new growth will come from. In time the pleaches (pleachers) will die but by then a new stem should have grown, from the stool, from ground level, which replaces the laid one (pleach). This process takes from eight to fifteen years, after which, if the hedge has not been trimmed, the hedgelaying process can be repeated. Hedges can be trimmed for many years after laying before allowing the top to grow to a sufficient height to lay again.

Smaller shoots branching off the pleachers and upright stems too small to be used as pleachers are known as "brash" or "brush" and in most styles of laying the brash will be partly removed and partly woven between the pleachers to add cohesiveness to the finished hedge.

At regular intervals upright stakes are placed along the line of the hedge. These stakes give the finished hedge its final strength. A fancy effect is achieved by binding the uprights[2] with such things as hazel whips woven around the tops of the stakes. The woven whips are known as "binders" or "heatherings" and can also be of birch, ash, willow etc. In fact, these can be of any green wood which will hold the stakes and tops of the pleachers down securely. The stakes and binders used in hedgelaying when properly used provide strength and stability to the hedge. Binders are not applied simply for visual effect although in competitive hedgelaying, the appearance of the binders is often one criterion for scoring the work.

Traditionally the hedgelayer's tool was a billhook, supplemented with an axe, nowadays a chainsaw is usually used by professional hedgelayers.


Snedding is the process of stripping the side shoots and buds from the length of a branch or shoot, usually of a tree or woody shrub, for example as part of the process of hedge laying. The verb, "to sned" is used by forest workers to refer to the process of removing branches from felled trees.[3] Whether using a bladed handtool or a chainsaw the relative difficulty of snedding is a key measure of the difficulty of the job as a whole. The word comes from the Scandinavian snäddare, meaning a smooth log.

Traditional regional styles

Over the centuries, different parts of the UK developed their own distinctive styles of hedge laying, all based on the same basic theory:

Midland style

Also known as bullock style. This hedge was designed to keep big heavy bullocks in their field. This style is mainly found in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire—traditional beef rearing areas.

Typical features:

Derbyshire style

As the name suggests this style is from the county of Derbyshire which is a mixed farming and sheep area.

Typical features:

Double staked styles

Used in Somerset and Lancashire. Both of the following two styles are good sheep hedges; they use stakes, but as a rule neither uses any type of bindings:

Lancashire style

Typical features:

Westmorland style

Typical features of the Westmorland style are:

Brecon style

A double brush style; this means that the twiggy ends of the pleachers are kept both sides of the hedge. Brecon style is practised in Breconshire, Radnorshire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire.

Typical features:

Montgomery style

Typical features:

The Stake & Pleach style is used in Monmouthshire, Brecknockshire, Radnorshire, Carmarthenshire and Montgomeryshire. The Flying Hedge style (a low hedge on a bank) is used in Pembrokeshire, the Gower, Glamorganshire, Monmouthshire and Carmarthenshire.

South of England style

Derived from the rougher Sussex Bullock Fence[4] it has a double brush style, but the cut base of the pleachers can be seen. Sometimes a pleacher is laid almost flat at the base before the next few are laid at a normal angle, this is presumably to help keep the sheep at bay.

Typical features:

Isle of Wight style

Now almost extinct, the Isle of Wight style looks untidy but is an effective stockproof barrier and is extremely quick and easy to lay successfully. Pleachers are simply laid one on top of the other, usually in alternating directions, with little of the brash removed, and then pegged down with crooked hazel stakes (similar to thatching spars). It is not suitable for domestic use or competitions, which has contributed to its decline, but is principally now used for restoring overgrown hedges.

Typical features:

Yorkshire style

The Yorkshire style is a sheep hedge as used on mixed arable and livestock farms. It is laid between two arable fields—and is so designed that by the time grass has replaced plough land in the rotation system, the hedge will have grown to a normal height. The base is too dense for sheep to push under it.

Typical features:

Devon style

Main article: Devon hedge

In Devon hedge laying is usually referred to as steeping. The pleachers are known as steepers. They are held in place by crooks (forked sticks driven into the centre of the hedgebank). The two sides of the hedge are steeped separately (as long as the hedge is big enough) leaving a gap through the centre of the hedge. When steeping is finished any eroded soil is cast up on top of the hedge to retain a good height of bank.

Typical features:

Cornish style

Main article: Cornish hedge

The shrubs are laid along the top of an earth bank faced with stones. Frequently the stones are set in herringbone style. Not all Cornish hedges have shrubs on top of the bank.

West Country hedges

The style of hedge used in Devon, Cornwall and parts of Wales gives us the familiar deep Devon lanes. However in reality they are seldom particularly deep – but rather what they do have are high banks, which give the impression of depth.

The field is often on the same level as the road. The banks are sometimes faced with stone rather than turf. However these hedges are not walls which have stone all the way through, but are rather an earth bank faced with stone. These are known as Cornish hedges.

In this context, the word hedge derives from an earlier one meaning bank – i.e. the division between strips in the medieval farming system. The association comes from the time when after the 18th century enclosures each man had to dig a ditch as his boundary and pile the soil spoil on his side of the ditch. He then had to plant bushes in order to keep his animals on his own land. This 'digging down and stocking up' was very hard work and as a result when creating internal boundaries, the ditch was often left out but the result was still called a hedge.

Modern Developments

A motorway style has been developed.[5] There is interest in leaving more trees as standards within the hedge, especially good examples of threatened species such as elm and ash. There is also emerging interest in reviving older methods of using live stakes(crop and pleach style).

Hedgelaying outside the British Isles

Typical field boundary of red beech hedging (Fagus sylvatica) in the North Eifel in Germany


In parts of the Netherlands hedgelaying is practised, with styles distinct to that country. With all Dutch styles no stakes or bindings are used. One of every three or four standards is left tall and are laid back over the hedge. This dies off and forms a temporary way of holding the hedge in place for a year or two until it becomes re-established.[6]


In the exposed uplands of the Eifel mountains, a particular type of hedgelaying has been employed since the 17th century that makes use of the characteristics of red beech to shield domestic housing and also to protect fields from damage by cattle and wind erosion and drying. This area around the town of Monschau is known as the Monschau Hedge Land and has become a recognised cultural landscape.


The skill is re-emerging in Australia, particularly in Tasmania. Hawthorn hedges, originally planted by early settlers, are the usual target but native species may also be involved.

British emigrants

Since the influx of the British settling on mainland Europe, the occasional hedgelayer has taken the skill of hedge-laying with him. Although mostly similar to the practical and swiftly worked Isle of Wight style, occasional examples of a laid hedge can be seen on the continent. However regular management is rare, and very few hedgerows are managed in a way sympathetic to the hedgelayer.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hedge planting.


  1. National Hedge Laying Society
  2. Seymour, John (1984 copyright by Dorling Kindersley Limited, London. Text copyright 1984 by John Seymour). The Forgotten Arts A practical guide to traditional skills. page 53: Angus & Robertson Publishers. p. 192. ISBN 0-207-15007-9. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. BTCV Woodlands Handbook
  4. BTCV Hedging Handbook
  5. BTCV Hedging Handbook
  6. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dave-perry/sets/72157603336893186/ Dave Perry's photographs of a hedgelaying competition in Boxmeer, 2006
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