How can you participate in traditional hedge laying techniques in rural Somerset?

The importance of hedgerows in the countryside cannot be understated. Acting as natural barriers, wildlife habitats, and visual enhancements for the landscape, hedges are a quintessential part of rural UK, including Somerset. Among the traditional methods of maintaining these hedgerows, hedge laying stands out as a significant craft, originating from the necessity to keep livestock within fields. The practice not only preserves the countryside's character but also supports local biodiversity. Whether you're a local farmer, a countryside enthusiast, or someone interested in traditional rural crafts, participating in hedge laying in Somerset can be a rewarding experience.

Discovering the Art of Hedge Laying

Hedge laying is a time-honoured craft that involves cutting, or 'pleaching,' living branches partially to allow them to bend and weave into a stock-proof barrier. The stakes driven into the hedge at regular intervals provide additional strength and structure.

In Somerset, you'll find it's a craft deeply rooted in the local community. Part of its charm lies in its diversity, with various national and local styles reflecting the landscape, local materials, and the livestock they contain. In Somerset, the local style is known as 'Devon style.' This involves laying the pleachers steeply at around 45 degrees, creating a dense, impenetrable hedge that's ideal for the local cattle.

If you wish to participate in this time-honoured tradition, you may learn from local farmers, join a local hedge laying society, or participate in a hedgelaying course. These platforms not only teach you the techniques but also provide opportunities to participate in hedge laying competitions, a popular activity in the countryside.

Engaging with Local Hedge Laying Societies

Becoming a member of a local hedge laying society is an excellent way to learn about and participate in this traditional craft. Somerset has several such societies, like the Blackdown Hills Hedge Association, which bring together like-minded individuals who value traditional rural skills.

These societies conduct regular workshops and demonstrations, providing hands-on experience in various hedge laying techniques. You'll be taught how to select and use the appropriate tools, the ideal species for hedging, and how to cut and lay the pleachers. Regular meetings and discussions with experienced hedgers provide an opportunity to learn about the traditions and innovations tied to this craft.

Enrolling in Hedgelaying Courses

Several institutions offer hedge laying courses in Somerset. In addition to teaching the technical aspects, these courses educate you about the ecological benefits of laid hedges. They can cover a variety of styles, including the Devon style and other regional variations.

While the course structure and duration may vary, a typical course might involve classroom sessions covering the theory behind hedge laying, followed by practical sessions where you can apply your learning in the field. These courses often provide all the necessary tools and personal protective equipment required for hedge laying.

Participating in Hedge Laying Competitions

One of the highlights of Somerset's hedging calendar is the hedge laying competitions. These events, often organized by local societies or agricultural shows, give you a chance to put your skills to the test. Competitors are judged on several aspects, such as the neatness of the cut and the laid pleachers, the firmness of the stakes, and the overall appearance of the finished hedge.

These competitions are not just about winning; they serve as a platform to raise awareness about the importance of hedgerows and hedge laying. They are also a valuable opportunity to exchange knowledge and techniques with fellow competitors.

Contributing to Hedgerow Conservation Efforts

By learning and practicing hedge laying, you're not just preserving a rural tradition; you're also contributing to conservation efforts. Well-laid hedges provide diverse habitats for a range of wildlife, from insects and birds to small mammals. They act as 'wildlife corridors,' allowing creatures to move safely across the landscape.

Many local councils and charities in Somerset run hedgerow conservation projects that welcome volunteers. Participating in these initiatives can be a fulfilling way to give back to the community and the environment while honing your hedge laying skills.

By participating in traditional hedge laying techniques in rural Somerset, you are not only keeping a centuries-old craft alive but also contributing to the preservation and enhancement of the countryside landscape. With each cut and stake you plant, you become a part of Somerset's rich heritage, ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy its verdant, well-tended hedgerows.

Supporting the National Hedgelaying Society

The National Hedgelaying Society is an organization that is dedicated to promoting the traditional craft of hedge laying across the UK. In Somerset, this society plays a vital role in preserving the Devon style of hedge laying. By becoming a member of this society, you become part of a larger community of hedge layers who are passionate about keeping this rural skill alive.

The society organizes regular training days and workshops where you can learn from expert hedge layers. These events present an excellent opportunity to get hands-on experience and learn the technical aspects of hedge laying. You'll be instructed on how to create a laid hedge with typical features and how to adapt your style depending on the type of hedge and the animals it is intended to contain.

The National Hedgelaying Society also runs an annual competition where hedge layers from across the country come together to showcase their skills. This contest, known as the National Hedgelaying Championship, is a major event in the Somerset hedging calendar. Participating in this championship allows you to demonstrate your abilities and learn from other competitors who employ different laying styles, including the Lancashire Westmorland and South England styles.

Encouraging the next generation of Hedgerow Heroes

In an effort to ensure that the art of hedge laying continues to thrive, it's important to encourage younger people to learn and appreciate this traditional skill. Several initiatives, such as the Hedgerow Heroes project, are aimed at this, ensuring that the next generation of hedge layers are ready to carry the torch.

Through educational programs and workshops in schools and colleges, the Hedgerow Heroes project introduces young people to the importance of hedgerows for biodiversity, the basics of hedge laying, and the role they can play in their preservation. Students are taught how to identify the ideal species for hedging, how to use hedge laying tools, and are also given practical experience in laying a hedge.

Moreover, youth competitions, such as the Young Hedge Laying Competition, provide a platform for young hedge layers to demonstrate their skills and gain recognition. Such initiatives not only ensure the continuation of this rural craft but also foster an appreciation for the countryside and its conservation among the younger generation.

Conclusion: Becoming part of Somerset's Rich Heritage

By learning and practising the art of hedge laying, you become an integral part of a tradition that has shaped Somerset's picturesque landscape for centuries. Whether it's the proud Devon hedge that protects the livestock or the Cornish hedges that add charm to the rural scene, each laid hedge tells a story of craftsmanship, dedication, and respect for nature.

Participating in hedge laying societies, enrolling in courses, competing in national hedgelaying championships, or volunteering with a hedge group, each experience enriches your understanding of this craft and its significance. Not only does it help preserve a traditional rural skill, but it also contributes to biodiversity and conservation efforts.

So, whether you're a seasoned hedge layer or a novice eager to learn, Somerset offers myriad opportunities to engage with this traditional craft. By becoming a part of this community of hedgerow enthusiasts, you're helping to write the next chapter in Somerset's rich hedge laying history.