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Hedges and hedgelaying

Pleacher comforts: the Isle of Wight Hedgelaying Competition

Matthew Chatfield
Latest posts by Matthew Chatfield (see all)

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!

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

6 thoughts on “Pleacher comforts: the Isle of Wight Hedgelaying Competition

  • Pete Hopkins

    Good to see the Craft being practiced way down South. So when is your 08-09 competition?
    Please let me know.

    The Ranger responds: always the last weekend in February. See you there!

  • Ruth D'Alessandro

    Aha! Now I know what the hedgelayers of Crockham Hill (Kent) have been up to! A mile of lovely hedging like this all along the Edenbridge road, and a joy to see.

    The Ranger responds: A mile? Blimey! they must work hard up your way. that’s a lot of work.

  • Brian Harris

    Once again, an enjoyable day out, even though the wind was colder than last year. It’s good to see younger people learning the old ways, and also the number of spectators.
    I planted my own mixed hedge four weeks ago, so it won’t be ready for the same treatment for a few years!

  • Chris Shepherd

    Very impressive piece of hedge laying – our efforts are a little more modest. Still, we are getting better.

  • Craig Ratcliff CAR Gardens

    Good to meet you too. A very interesting visit to the hedgelaying, and much respect for the competitors.
    Great cake from the tent too!

  • NChatfield

    Congratulations to the hedge layers – v good to see that young craftsmen and craftswomen are learning the skill and the striking results of the top operators.

    The Ranger responds: I guess that makes me ‘the son of a pleacher man‘! 🙂


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