National Hedgelaying Society

December 2006 Newsletter

December 2006 Newsletter

Mechanical Hedgelaying

I have received a number of enquiries about Mechanical Hedgelaying. [See original document MechanicalHedgelaying] Some people protesting that all hedgelayers would soon be put out of a job, others declare that this is the future of hedgerow maintenance.

Mechanical hedgelaying was developed in 2005 by a farmer near Aylesbury and supported by the Aylesbury Vale Countryside Services. Put simply the technique consists of cutting stems with a powered pruning saw, and then crashing the hedge down using a modified telescopic handler, the hedge is shaped by pushing the cut stems into position. Fences are erected on both sides of the hedge for protection. Claims made for this technique are that it is cheaper and quicker than conventional hedge laying and that the resulting hedge is more wildlife friendly.

Like so many things to do with the countryside and wildlife there are no magic formulæ to solve all problems. But let's look at this from a land management point of view. It is claimed that using this technique two men can lay up to 250m of hedge per day. I have seen two men with a conventional chainsaw crash down 250m of hedge in a day and achieve just the same result without having to resort to any special equipment and if that is the sort of hedge you want then fine, but why not use two experienced hedgers and save on the equipment and the Diesel?

Manoeuvring mechanical equipment up and down a hedge in these days of stewardship grass margins is not difficult, but manoeuvring equipment in and out at right angles to the hedge would just not be practical where arable land is concerned, even if there were no crops growing at the time compaction, is certainly something to consider. Even on grassland the use of mechanised equipment to this extent during the winter months is not going to improve next seasons grazing.

If the type of hedge you require is one which is wide, untidy, and not stock proof, then crashing a hedge down is probably as good a technique as any other, and certainly if DEFRA are willing to accept this and pay for it as a “Laid hedge”, then go for it and get some easy money. But do not confuse this with hedgelaying, which is designed, not only to provide a stock proof fence (avoiding the cost of wire fences) but also provide a hedge, which is easy to managed in the longer term.

Now lets consider the wildlife aspects. It is clearly a misunderstanding of wildlife conservation to suggest that a broad and tall hedge is better than short and narrow. Every type of hedgerow will benefit some species more than others and therefore as a general principle variety of habitat is far more important than having all your hedgerows the same.

Finally, let us keep in mind that hedge laying is just one technique amongst many for managing hedgerows. Managing a hedgerow is about knowing which technique to use in the different circumstances. Hedge Layers were not slow to take on the benefits of using chain saws, and if anyone comes up with a mechanical method of laying a hedge as good as a professional hedge layer then we would be foolish to ignore the development. But I am still waiting!