Learning about hedge laying

By Molly Isherwood, Conservation Assistant

I was definitely feeling the nerves as I drove towards my first day of volunteering with Snowdonia Society, with my official start date just around the corner. Would I make a good impression? Luckily, I had the warmest of welcomes from Peri and all the volunteers who’d also come along to learn the traditional art of hedge laying. There were many other new faces who had come along for the day in Dinas Mawddwy, with people from the local Dyfi area, plus further afield. Today, we would be learning from Joseph, a local sheep farmer who has been professionally hedge laying from a young age.

The lack of labourers and the introduction of new machinery has meant that traditional hedge laying techniques have fallen out of fashion in favour of quicker and cheaper methods such as post and wire fence laying. Luckily, there is a big drive to promote a better understanding and knowledge of hedge laying to keep the craft alive. There are numerous different local styles of hedge laying, each adding to the unique characteristics of an area. Hedge laying is also a great way of correctly managing our hedgerows for wildlife. Native hedgerows provide crucial corridors for species that may otherwise be at risk of local extinction, by connecting pockets of habitats across Eryri and the wider landscape.

Joseph was a great teacher, and we all managed to have a go laying a section of the hedge. He taught us that a hedge must always be laid uphill, because this follows the flow of the lifegiving sap. I found it amazing how the hedge could survive even with only a slither of the main stem remaining, allowing you to bend it into the hedge. Great care had to be taken with this, as you had to leave enough for the stem to survive, but not so thick that it would snap upon bending.

As with many things, practice definitely does make perfect, and while I doubt any of us besides Joseph walked out of there with a professional hedge laying status, we all learnt something new, and were doing our part to ensure the survival of this traditional artform. It was a great way to get out and enjoy some winter sun in our beautiful local area, while meeting people with similar passions and interests. Joseph was very grateful for all the help and has even been accompanied by some of the local volunteers again to finish the job before the hedge laying season comes to a close.

It is so important that we preserve this beautiful and iconic heritage skill, and I am so grateful to Joseph and the Snowdonia Society for organising such an informative and enjoyable day!

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