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Wey & Arun Canal Hedge-layers Keep Ancient Craft Alive

Published on: 21 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 21 Dec, 2020

A small band of volunteers with the Wey & Arun Canal Trust are keeping an ancient country craft alive, while providing a valuable habitat for wildlife.

A volunteer cuts stakes and binders as part of the hedge-laying on the Wey & Arun Canal at Loxwood, across the Surrey border into West Sussex.

Its hedge-laying team has been running for 18 years, and at the end of November volunteers resumed their weekly working party under Covid-safe conditions.

The team usually works from October and November until February or March when birds begin nesting.

last year’s hedge next to this year’s.

This season they are laying a hedge along the canal at Loxwood, continuing the one they began last year. Each team member has an individual area to complete, marked out in orange paint, keeping them socially distant from one another.

The Loxwood hedge is being laid in ‘Southern Counties’ style. According to the National Hedge-laying Society there are more than 30 different regional styles, developed to cope with the climate of an area, different farming practices and the trees and shrubs that grow there, which in West Sussex is usually native species of hawthorn, field maple, ash and oak.

The technique, unchanged for centuries, first involves removing brambles and excess growth from the hedgerow about to be laid.

The Wey & Arun’s hedge-layers are a dedicated band of volunteers.

The hedge-layer then cuts away pleaches, that is the stem towards ground level and arches it over at an angle of 60 degrees, encouraging new shoots to grow straight upwards. The ‘pleachers’ are then weaved in and out of the hazel stakes, with a stake every 21 inches.

The aim is to create a line for the eye to follow, with stakes in a row and the rolling lines of binders in between. Even the tops of the stakes are cut with care, so they are all the same height and angle.

The result is a thing of beauty bordering the canal towpath, but importantly the craft keeps a hedge healthy and longer living, and provides both food and refuge for wildlife.

The aim of the Wey & Arun Canal Trust is to achieve the restoration, as a public amenity, of the navigable link between the Rivers Wey and Arun, and so recreate the direct water link between London and the South Coast.

Click here for more details on its website.

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