The Ancient Craft of Hedge-Laying
Human beings have been planting hedges since the Neolithic era. When did hedge-laying begin? According to Hedge Britannia, there is evidence of British field patterns that go back at least to the Bronze Age. By the Roman period, hedgelaying was in use in Northern Europe. Julius Caesar is recorded as describing the Nervii tribe using their laid hedges as military defences against his army.Over the centuries, different regions in the UK developed their own distinctive styles of hedge laying, all based on the same basic weaving method. These styles include the Midland, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Westmoreland and Brecon styles. You can read more about hedge-laying styles here.After World War II, thousands of miles of British hedgerows were torn out to make way for ‘modern agricultural intensification’. The hedges had been providing habitat for small birds, insects and and mammals, so the loss of these ‘wildlife corridors’ was ecologically devastating. In the 1970s a new movement began, reviving not only the preservation and re-planting of hedges but also the art of hedge-laying, which had almost been lost as old hedge-layers died without passing on their knowledge.
Today, hedge-laying is undergoing a popular revival in Britain and the USA.
Hedge-laying in Australia:
The early settlers planted hawthorn trees as stock barriers around the perimeters of their paddocks, especillay in Tasmania, Victoria, southern New South Wales and South Australia. They did not merely allow the trees to grow unchecked – nor did they simply prune or coppice them to keep them thick. They laid them. Hedge-laying involves weaving the living branches together to form a dense, impenetrable barrier. This createss a self-renewing, sustainable stock barrier that is as beautiful as it is practical.
The remnant Heritage Hawthorn Hedge that surrounds Werribee Park Heritage Orchard would have been ‘laid’ in its day. There was simply no better way to stock-proof the orchard, and there was no point merely planting a row of hawthorns without weaving them together to make a proper barrier. The hedge would also have been useful in preventing soil erosion.
Restoring Werribee Park Orchard’s Heritage Hedge:
The WPHO committee hopes to restore the remnants of the orchard hedge to their former glory while educating the public about this traditional rustic craft.