Are spiders afraid of conkers?

I doubt there’s a spider enthusiast who is not familiar with enquiries about how to keep spiders out of the house. It hardly needs to be pointed out that spider-lovers are the last people who should be asked such a question – indeed, many would probably be interested in how to make spiders come into a house, if such a thing were possible. House spiders can be every bit as interesting as those outside, and a lot easier to observe. I shall not deny the excitement I experienced when I rediscovered the spitting spider, Scytodes thoracica in my house, nearly twenty years after I had last seen one. With such fascinating creatures willing to share one’s home, how anyone could want to have fewer spiders indoors is sometimes hard for me to appreciate. But to pass as a responsible member of society it is sometimes necessary to maintain a certain abstraction, and thus to entertain queries from those who don’t have the same enthusiasm for spiders. Continue reading Are spiders afraid of conkers?

Pleacher comforts: the Isle of Wight Hedgelaying Competition

The Ranger has been for many years involved in organising the Isle of Wight Hedgelaying Competition. Actually, these days, he usually just turns up on the day and stands about reflecting on how terribly well everyone has done. But it’s still a real pleasure. But what’s this? You don’t know what a hedgelaying competition is about? You’re in the right place to remedy that, for sure. Read on…

Hedgelaying competition sign

At the start of the day, competitors assemble from across the Island. Each is allotted a stretch of hedge – either nine yards or eleven yards, depending on the class they are entering. They are provided with stakes (the thick sticks) and heathers (the long spindly sticks) cut recently from hazel, which is a very flexible and strong wood when green – you’ll see just how flexible soon enough.

About to start the hedgelaying competition

Competitors line up to start the hedgelaying competition

The idea is to cut the main stems (called ‘pleachers’) and lay the stem down (hence ‘laying’ a hedge) without breaking it off. This way the stem remains alive and the hedge will regrow thick and strong; suitable for keeping stock in the field. A careless hedgelayer might break off the stem – for this you would definitely lose points in a competition.

Cutting the pleacher

Cutting the pleacher with a billhook

It’s also necessary to cut a lot of the top growth out of the hedge. A laid hedge is a lot smaller than it started off, at least at first. Within a few years it will be growing more vigorously than ever. There are various regional styles of hedgelaying and on the Isle of Wight our competition is in South of England style. In this style, as the pleachers are laid in, stakes are driven along the hedge to keep it together. The heathers are then woven into the top to keep the whole thing strong and resilient. This is one of the hardest bits, and very important in a competition, as the quality of finish of the hedge is one thing the judges will certainly be looking at.

Weaving in the heatherings

Rangers Rick Temple and Karl Dyson twist and weave the heatherings into their prize-winning hedge

When the hedge is finished it is a fine sight, and as this one was alongside a main road it is a good advertisement for the craft. The lucky landowner who lent his field for the competition will have a splendid hedge for many years to come.

A laid hedge

All that remains to do is to give out the prizes. In this competition, everybody wins a prize! Spending a whole day working at a hedge is very hard work however good or bad you are, so they deserve it. Many prizes are donated by local businesses and landowners. The runners-up get gloves, pruning saws and other small tokens. This year the overall winner got a brand-new Stihl chainsaw. Not a bad prize!

Giving out the prizes

The Ranger presents the prize to the IW College Girls’ Team. Mmm, nice jacket, Ranger!