Hedge Steeping at Billany

By Don Gaskins

We had a cool dry Autumn day for our visit to Billany Farm, Dartington on the 17th of October for the first hedging course of the new season.

Following the introduction and safety talk instructor Jeremy showed us several hedges which he has laid over the past few years on the smallholding. We also inspected some turf hedging which Laura and Alice had completed on a training day last year. Owner Judy has a very fine semi circular horse engine outhouse – typical of many farms in Devon. Originally constructed of cob it has been rebuilt in local limestone with a slate roof. We were very impressed with a massive elm beam running across the building, above head height,supported at one end on a stone wall and at the other by a retained section of cob.

We worked on a very nice length of double comb hedge running alongside the drive leading up to the farmhouse. The far side had been flailed so we worked on the roadside comb. The hedge was mainly hazel but also contained blackthorn, hawthorn, holly, elm,dogwood, dogrose and spindle. The bank was at a comfortable height for steeping but the brash had to be dragged down the lane and stacked in a nearby field. Jeff gallantly volunteered for this onerous chore and spent the day dragging a large tarpaulin containing the cut material up and down the lane. Crooks were in short supply so we used stakes, Dorset bonds and living stakes to secure the steepers. Mick spent a couple of hours in the morning chainsawing back a massive old dead oak stump lying across the bank so that we could put in the cut stems.

Steeping the hedge

Laura, Mitchell, Alice and Sean elected to work on their own lengths in preparation for the forthcoming hedging competition. Newcomers Amy and Jack (who both work for Devon Wildlife Trust at Cricklepit Mill, Exeter), Angus and Dave linked up with MIck, Jonathan, Nick and Don to work further along the hedge. It was an ideal hedging day weatherwise and the hedge was perfect for beginners. Refreshment breaks were very convivial and the time passed quickly.

Lunch by the hedge

By four thirty we had completed 60 yards of hedge and cleared away the brash. Jeremy took us on a walk along the hedge to inspect people’s handiwork and Judy came down and expressed her satisfaction . She gave us a generous donation to Trust funds and invited us to come back in the Spring to lay more of the hedge.

The next course is Hedge Laying on the 14th November at Ham Farm, Loddiswell, TQ7 4RX. More details can be found here.

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