Before the days of barbed wire and electric fences hedges were the main way to keep livestock from roaming. The hedges were planted to divide up the land and retain the live stock, when the hedges grew too tall to be effective as stock control it was the job of the hedge layer to manage these living barriers.
Today nearly all rural hedges are given a rather brutal hair cut using a tractor, although effective and time saving it does little for the protection of habitat or the health of the hedge itself.
Above are the tools that are generally all you need to lay a hedge. I pinched the picture from the National Hedge Laying Society. But it illustrates how these tools and methods have remained unchanged for centuries.
Basically without going into too much detail, what happens is, a rather brutal cut is made through the stem to be layed, called the pleacher, about 2/3 of the way through, which allows the stem to be layed down but still connected to the stump. The picture below shows the small hinge left, this small amount is enough to allow the pleacher to survive.
As you lay them posts are driven into the ground and the pleachers woven round to tie them in. This photo shows another hinge to allow this rather hefty branch to be bent back into shape, to keep the line.
The above pictures are from the course I did a few weeks ago. The section I worked on was a nightmare, even the instructor said they were really at the top end of what you would normally lay. At least I learned a great deal from it.
Once the pleacheers are all layed and woven into the stakes, willow or hazel rods are woven along the top to tie the whole thing together.
Each part of the country has it’s own style and they are fiercely upheld. The guy, Max, who taught us is a medal winner in the yorkshire style. Like most crafts it’s a skill and an art.