Where a hedge is becoming gappy, either at its base or along its length, it should be rejuvenated either by laying or coppicing. Laying involves partially cutting through stems at their bases and lowering them along the length of the banks; coppicing is cutting the stems right through (i.e. felling them) and removing them altogether. Over much of Devon, the local term for laying is steeping. Further information on terms is in the Glossary.
The documents Steeping (hedge laying) and coppicing and Devon field boundaries: restoration standards for agri-environment schemes, and the video The Art of Devon Hedge Laying, give detailed guidance on how to lay a hedge in the Devon style. For general information on hedge laying, see The National Hedge Laying Society website. If you are looking for a contractor to lay a hedge use the search facility to find a hedge layer in Devon.
Laying, when carried out by an expert using hand tools (including sometimes a chainsaw), results in a structure that is an art form as well as very practical and long-lasting. However, satisfactory results can be achieved by much cruder methods, even steeping with an excavator! The Devon Hedge Group is investigating these, to see which we can recommend under what circumstances, as a way of cutting farmer costs and encouraging more hedge laying, whilst still retaining the wildlife and other benefits of hedges.
The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology leaflet Rejuvenation of hedgerows compares the benefits and costs of different methods of hedge rejuvenation.
Coppicing is appropriate where the stems are too large to be layed or where a wood fuel crop is to be taken. It can be carried out either by chainsaw or by tree shears mounted on tracked machines such as excavators. For more information see Wood fuel from hedges and Harvesting woodfuel from hedges.
TMH tree shears
Ross Dickinson and his family organised an event on 26th February 2018 to look at the economic viability of hedge coppicing at Racedown Farm near Bridport. This report gives details of the day.