National Hedgelaying Society

December 2006 Newsletter

NHLS December 2006 Newsletter

A Profile of the Chief Steward

Derek Smith

How long does it take to lay one thousand metres of hedge? Just five hours if you are working for Derek Smith. As Chief Steward for the National Championship that's just how long competitors are given to lay their section and with over 100 competitors each laying 9 to 10 metres, that needs a lot of supervision. But Derek has the necessary mix of skill, experience, and sense of humour to get through the championship as if it were an everyday event.

Born at the strangely named hamlet of Cotes-de-val near Loughborough in Leicestershire, Derek's father was a lorry driver although he had been brought up on a farm. When Derek was only 18 months old, the family moved to a council farm of about 130 acres and later to another farm at Queniborough.

Leaving school at 16 with little more than enthusiasm he worked on his father's farm, learning the trade including ploughing and hedge laying. Derek is perhaps one of the few people who have competed in both the National Hedge Laying championship and the National Ploughing Championship. After his father died in 1966 Derek took over the farm, continuing to develop the business with his two sons, branching out into contract fencing and hedge cutting.

It is now 11 years since Derek retired to his bungalow in Queniborough! If that's what you call it. At 74 he frequently helps on the farm as well as keeping his hand in at hedge Laying, recently coming second in the Cotswold match and second at the Quorn match.

As soon as one National Championship is complete Derek's duties as Chief Steward commence on the following year's competition. Choosing the site, meeting with landowners discuss the layout and the impact of the competition on the farm. Here Derek's experience come quickly to the fore. The build up to the championship means quite a bit of paperwork and many telephone calls. Finding Judges and Stewards, Distributing schedules and checking the entries.

The day before the championship Derek will be found walking along the competition hedge dividing it into sections and carefully numbering each one. Skipping over the gaps or thin hedge, to ensure that everyone gets a reasonable section to cut. Watching for the unexpected, a badger sett, which must be protected, barbed wire to be removed, and any hedgerow trees to be tagged for conservation.

When the championship day arrives Derek as unflappable as ever, keeps control of the competitors, Judges, and Stewards, ensuring that the scores are checked and rechecked before declaring the winners. “The secret of the job”, says Derek, “is having a good team, people you can rely on to keep things in order”.