Turf hedging 

By Don Gaskins

The Westcountry landscape is unique in many ways but particularly renowned for its stone walls and hedgebanks which are an essential part of the countryside scene. The varied geology of the area has enabled our forebears to construct dry stone walls of granite and limestone in the uplands of Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor and the hills of Somerset and Gloucestershire and in exposed coastal locations where hedges would struggle to survive. Elsewhere local stone has been used to face up Devon and Cornish earth banks topped with hedges. In areas where stone is not readily available turf faced banks have been constructed.

All these features need maintenace and repair from time to time and in new development completely new walls and hedgebanks are often constructed. Under new agri environment schemes there are proposals to make available capital grants to ensure the retention of these important landscape features. Stone is expensive to purchase and becoming more difficult to find locally as small quarries are worked out or closed down because they are not economc to run. Turf facing is a cheaper alternative and usually the material to repair or construct new sections of hedgebank is readily available close at hand.

We have organised a DRST turf hedging course to be held at Culvertor Farm, Farthing Lane, Marldon (close to the Chtristmas Tree Farm) on Saturday the 25th of March by kind permission of local landowner Alan Dommett where you can learn the technique of digging turf blocks from the adjacent field to repair and reconstruct a length of hedgebank. This is an essential traditional Devon skill which is easy to learn and which it is really important to keep alive.

Come along and give it a try. You will find it very satisfying!


Wattle hurdles

Saturday was our annual wattle hurdle course at the South Devon Steiner School. Under the cover of the green woodwork area we assembled to cleave and weave and twist the hazel, creating our self contained fence panels. 

Hurdles are very cleverly fitted together bottom and top to ensure they don’t unravel. The result is a strong yet flexible and beautiful panel, traditionally used to fold sheep, now as garden screens. 

The next course is this Saturday, 11th of February, coppicing at Parke, Bovey Tracey, with Mick Jones. 

Dry stone mud bathing at Orley Common

By Jeremy Weiss

It could have been a total disaster… but instead turned out to be a very satisfying and enjoyable day at Orley Common. It had rained heavily all night and the ground was sopping. Mick and Gary were dispatched to find some straw to put down and this worked well with the sunshine helping to raise the spirits.

The last course had been spent dismantling the wall, pulling out roots, shifting vast quantities of stone, and rebuilding the footings. Impressively, many of the participants of that course returned and they were able to reap the rewards of the hard work they’d put in previously. Today we spent building and the wall which, in spite of its enormity, came up quickly.

A great day and amazing spirit and enthusiasm shown by all.

The next course is next Saturday at the South Devon Steiner School – Wattle Hurdles. Once place is still available.

Hedgesteeping at Orcheton

By Adam Maher (Trainee)

The first course of 2017 saw a return to Little Orcheton and also the return of some amazing weather. We were back to continue hedge laying a lapsed section of farmland hedge under the guidance of Maxine McAdams.

The hedge in question was a real mix, with sections comprised of large hazel stools with some stems too big to lay and some sections where the hedge had grown into maturing trees resulting in other areas being far sparser.

After an introduction from Maxine into how we would tackle the hedge, participants split off into pairs to choose a section to work on.

The first half of the day saw a lot of preparation work clearing back the hedge to a point where we could start laying it, with two chainsaw operators being kept very busy!

As some stems being laid were quite large, pairs worked together to stabilise the hazel limbs so they didn’t hakes mouth as they were brought over; sections were laid off as the chainsaw operators cleared out the hedge.

With the hedge being carefully brought into position and staked out, that brought to an end a challenging day of hedge laying, leaving a lot of timber, a massive brash pile and also some great memories of hedge laying in stunning weather amongst flowering hazels.

Devon Hedge Tree Competition

Glenn, Della and John Bealey from Week Farm near Great Torrington have been awarded first prize in the Devon Hedge Tree Competition.

Glenn is passionate about hedgerows and has planted many hedge trees on his 310 acre beef, sheep and arable farm in recent years.  Glenn says “Increasing the number and variety of hedgerow trees on our farm has benefitted wildlife and the landscape hugely, and I’ve found planting and looking after them very rewarding. The farm is now a much more attractive place, at little extra cost. We are delighted to have won first prize”.

Richard and Lisa Gray of Priddons Farm, Holne, Dartmoor, received second prize. The judges were impressed by the number and range of native hedgerow trees they have fostered in an area of very high landscape value despite the challenges of high altitude and exposure.

 Third place went to Andrew Hendy of Ley Farm, Diptford, in the South Hams and the South Devon AONB, in recognition of the numerous young hedge trees that Andrew has selected to grow on.

 Jim and Roberta Powell at Holne Court Farm, Holne; Colin Wakeham, Colston Farm, Buckfastleigh and Geoff and Cathy Pitt, Oaklands, Brandis Corner were each Highly Commended.

DRST Hedge Steeping Competition Results…

By Don Gaskins

Hedgelayers came from as far afield as Dorset, the Mendips and the Blackdown Hills for DRST’s annual hedging competition which this year was held at Ham Farm, Loddiswell in South Devon on the 29th of October.

As always the standard of work was high right across the field – particularly in the Open Class where two and a half points covered the first four competitors. Steve Mc Culloch was first, narrowly ahead of second placed Colin Risdon with Mike Reed third and last year’s winner Richard Hooker in fourth place. The Ladies Cup went, once again, to Tina Bath competing in the Open Class.  Local man Chris Stanton won the Intermediate Class with Dorset based cutters Rob Wood and John Sibthorp in second and third places.  Alan Martin won the Novice Class with Josey Field second and Laura Tunstall third.

Peter Yeates, Roger Parris and Rachael Banyard were the judges and prizes were presented by landowner Peet Leather who was delighted with the work carried out.  It’s now down to her partner Karl Hahn to dispose of the mountain of brash! All in all a very pleasant and successful day.

A longer version of this report will appear in the next print edition of Skills.