Looking after the hedges of Horsenden Lane North

Calling local nature lovers & aspiring hedgelayers – Horsenden wants YOU! We’ve got a big task ahead of us, and all the help we can get is appreciated.

Horsenden Lane North is the road that goes from the A40 to Sudbury. It bisects the meadows of Horsenden West and Paradise Fields on the west side, and Horsenden Hill and Horsenden Farm on the East side.

Horsenden Lane circa 1916

We’re looking to restore the hedge along Horsenden Lane North, next to the footpath.

Horsenden has an abundance of habitats – ancient woodland, grassland, meadows, wetland, ponds, scrub, and hedgerows both ancient and new. The blackthorn (with their gorgeous white spring blossom and winter sloes crop) dividing up the fields of Horsenden West and Paradise Fields were once field boundaries from many hundreds of years ago, planted to divvy up the land into plots to be farmed, and to keep livestock safe (and prevent them from wondering too far and eating the arable crops!). At a very basic level they served the purpose of fencing, but they have a multitude of additional benefits: they protect the land on either side from wind damage and their roots protect from flood and heavy rainfall damage; they provide shelter and over-wintering warmth to many little critters and beasties, as the inside of hedge rows is warmer thanks to the windbreak and leafy insulation; they give autumnal, winter and spring forage to those same little ones when food is otherwise sparse; they join up areas of woods and forest to be thoroughfares and prevent population islands forming; and many more.

Newly laid and mulched hedge at Horsenden farm

Hedges are a wonderful example of how humans can have a positive impact that absolutely adds to the beauty and diversity of the natural world. They’re a human-made habitat that doesn’t exist naturally, and in the UK, hedges have been a feature of the land for so many centuries that there are even species of birds and small mammals that depend on hedgerows to nest and feed in.

And back to Horsenden Lane North – which has a hedgerow in need of restoration, which is where we come in!

We will lay as much of it as we can, which involves trimming side branches and moderate-to-heavy pruning before making a cut (“pleach”) to bend the stem without it snapping. Initially this can look a bit severe but actually is very good for the individual stems and shrubs and trees, as it encourages new growth and prolongs their life. After it grows in the hedge will be considerably denser than it was before, which will be great for the local wildlife, and will also open the vista from the path, which I’m sure will help make it feel safer at night.

We’ll probably coppice some of the hazel and other stools there, and in some places that are a bit gappy we’ll plant 1-2 years old baby tree saplings called “whips”, that after a couple more years will thicken out and reinforce the sparse areas.

We’ll use locally sourced stakes (the vertical poles that hold the newly horizontal branches, stems and pleaches in place) and binders (the thinner longer branches that are plaited together at the top of the stakes, to hold all the foliage down and keep it from springing up), in what is called the South of England style of hedgelaying. It’s the style that’s most appropriate for the region, that would have been used historically for the local hedgerows.

Photo by Xiaofei Zhang

Would you like to help?

Between October and April we’ll have regular hedgelaying, clearing, planting and coppicing sessions (not to mention woodchipping/mulching, and wildflower seed sewing) to restore and regenerate the hedgerow that starts opposite Owen Fabrication near the farm entrance and ends at the old summit car park entrance (and maybe beyond – but that’s plenty for now!). We’ll do it in bite size sections.

A great way to help would be to attend a hedgelaying course with Clive Leeke, dates at the bottom of the page. That teaches the fundamentals of hedgelaying and hedge care, and can be taken as a 4 date course or with individual one day introduction sessions. There are also tasks like whip planting, pruning, mulching, raking, etc that don’t require training – pop along to a volunteering session to help with those!

We meet mostly on Saturdays and Sundays (with occasional week days, for good measure). Look at the calendar here for dates, bearing in mind to check near the time in case of any emergency cancellations.

Please get in touch to justin@justinbonnet.co.uk with any questions, otherwise I’d be delighted to see you at a session!

Justin & the Horsenden Hedgeslayers

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