Hedge laying is the skill of creating a stockproof barrier out of living woodland plants. It involves the partial severing of woody plants, at a point just above ground level. The cut stems, known as pleachers or plashers, are then laid over and interwoven to form a living fence. The top of the hedge is then usually bound with small diameter, very flexible stems of hazel to give a tidy finish and keep the stakes and pleachers held strongly in place. Most broadleaved woody shrubs and trees can be successfully laid including hawthorn, blackthorn, holly, hazel, ash, and rose.
Prior to the invention of wire, hedges were the only practical and cost-effective way for a farmer to enclose his livestock in areas where suitable and sufficient stone for walling was unavailable. Hedgerows help to define the uniqueness of the British countryside and are an important wildlife habitat. Hedge laying is still practiced in many areas of England and Wales as a method of conserving hedgerows through traditional skills. Thousands of miles of hedgerows have been lost as a result of agricultural change and urban development, and those remaining are often in a poor condition. Hedge laying rejuvenates a hedge by encouraging new growth from the base, while the old stems are woven together to produce the barrier. Hedges require regular ongoing maintenance by landowners and farmers who spend £16 million ($32 million) per year caring for them.
Periodic laying greatly increases the natural lifespan of hedges, which if allowed to grow out will become thin at the base and eventually grow into lines of trees with no value as a fence. This form of neglect is one of the main causes of hedgerow decline. Laying is more cost effective than fencing in the long run and also offers shelter for stock and cover for wildlife.
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