Why we need Healthy Hedges and shelterbelts

Living along the Teifi river for nearly 20 years teaches you the extremes of rivers in flood and in drought. These last couple of weeks with the onset of storm Callum hit home the increasing frequency of high peak flow and the damage it manifests on our door steps…literally.


Hedgelaying is often described as ‘the dying art’, by the sentimental or out of date and too costly by the farmer with a large tractor and flailing machine in his shed. Neither are correct, hedgelaying is going to be very much a 21st century activity.


We often forget the service that healthy shelterbelts, hedgerows and woodlands play. Recently as part of some research for a report  I read the Woodland Trust report on the  Pont Bren Project https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/publications/2013/02/the-pontbren-project/  ; where an alliance of farmers among other things restored hedgerows, copses and created new shelter belts. This resulted in positive improvements to the output of the farms but also the reduction in water runoff which causes peak flow and worse flooding. Independent research by the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology found the infiltration rates (rate at which the water drained into the soil) inside the woodland were 60 times those on the pasture ten metres away. Studies are ongoing but it is not rocket science: well maintained hedges and shelter belts will aid in lowering peak run off and mitigate the ever increasing storms and blocking events which cause large volumes of water to fall over a watershed and cause destructive flood events.

Wildlife also needs healthy hedges to live in, feed from and as wildlife paths to move around along. This time of year is difficult, because the flailing machines come out in October and begin stripping already dying hedges of any new growth they have grown. Berries and other potential food are cut off and deprive the birds and insects of winter sustenance. Is this necessary? The research says overwhelmingly No. Best practice would be laying the hedge or more often to renovate and replant it. Continue reading “Why we need Healthy Hedges and shelterbelts”

February Hedge laying Courses in Bishopston: How Did it Go?

Hedges laid, skills learnt, friends made and future work planned: job done…

Like with any course delivery the planning and preparation to get to the first day is the hardest. We set up camp 2 days before to gives us time to organise the insulated land rover tent, gather firewood from Bishopston’s small woodland opposite the recreation ground and give a final sharpening of hedge tools. Nick and Rob were with us for 4 days and Rob’s two daughters joined us for the first day while Lewis Rob’s son joined us for the last 2 days.

The first day was full of introductions, not only to each other but how to cut with tools, find hedge stakes and have a discussion on the wider issues of the importance of hedges in our shared environment. It was very interesting to listen to Georgina and Catherine as young teachers who have experience in teaching environmental issues such as climate change to primary school children.

It was here in which we began the discussion on the hedge styles and those relevant to this area. Of course hedge styles develop in response to particular agricultural and climatic conditions. The Gower has in the past been a sheep farming area coupled with a strong south westerly wind. Consequently high bank low ‘flying hedges’ dominated the area. The recreation ground hedge is not on a bank and does not need to keep sheep in but often restrict human access to certain entry points. Therefore the Midland hedge is the chosen style. However the Midland hedge is a good foundation for any hedge layer because once mastered you can transfer those skills to pretty much tackle any other type with practice.

The second day started with Nick and Rob really getting stuck into pleaching and laying their section of the hedge. The weather being cold but bright enabled the men to make good progress and start understanding firsthand the physical skills as well as all the decisions that are to be made to control shape and density. One of the issues at Bishopston is that the hedge is thin in places and occasionally a large gap will form especially where large trees dominate and suppress the hedge either side or in Bishopston’s case where trees have been removed.  For this replanting the gaps are essential but if the hedge needs to be stock or person proof immediately, it is a case of dead hedging the gap. This is where hedge material extracted elsewhere along the hedge is pushed into the gap to create a dense barrier.

On the third day Nick worked on his own through nasty rain, with help from Bob Smith the instructor. A miserable day but sometimes it is necessary to crack on with a job. However it also helps to have a camp nearby where you can stop, sit and get warm by a wood burner, dry yourself and drink tea! The portable camp is designed to be set up close to any job for that precise reason; it makes the logistics much easier and achievable by people of all ages.

Nick completed his 4 day course on the Friday, he was very pleased with what he had learnt and intended to use the skills in his gardening business locally. His feedback ‘I thoroughly enjoyed the experience though the weather was not perfect! Hopefully more people might be enthused to take part in phase 2 in October.’

Rob and his son Lewis completed their course in the final weekend. Both made very good progress on the hedge. All the students hope to do some volunteer hedge laying before the season ends in March.

Hedgelaying in Bishopston


Last week Bob Smith, laid a 17 metre stretch of hedge belonging to Bishopston community council running along the perimeter of the recreation ground. It is a demonstration of what can be done to improve our local environment. If all goes well Climate and Community will be working with Bishopston Community Council to hold a hedge laying course this season at the recreation ground. Bob Smith has instructed hedgelaying  and been involved in practical environmental projects for 25 years or more.  For upcoming course dates check our website and facebook page.

Climate and Community has been established and motivated by care and concern for the environment we will be passing on to future generations. We are looking to connect with community organisations to facilitate, demonstrate and promote best practice in maintaining and sustaining the environment.

We believe a key issue in addressing problems such as the warming climate is to evolve new economic arrangements that make it possible to work in harmony with nature. We are seeking to break the addiction to the easy energy of fossil fuels which makes a sustainable habitat apparently unaffordable according to current economic cost analysis.