How to Coppice a Hedge
An escaped hedge is where individual trees or shrubs have grown up become mature trees with single stems & lots of gaps in between. This hedge is not stockproof it can be rejuvenated by either coppicing or laying. Catherine Keena Teagasc & Eoin Donnelly, Hedge Laying Association tell us how
Coppicing involves cutting hedges down to the base in order to rejuvenate them. Stems are cut down to 2-3 inches above ground level. All vegetative debris must be cleared from underneath the hedge to get as clean a base as possible. The cut stumps will re-shoot and can grow up to 1.5 metres, depending on species because there is an established root system. There may be an opportunity to plant in new material if there are gaps in order to have continuous cover.
Retain occasional single stem trees
It is important to retain occasional single stem trees, which are important for hedge nesting birds who like to have a song perch above the hedge from which to sing. Birds need a suitable perch to sing and hold their territory. Ash is good for songbirds but leaving a whitethorn, blackthorn or crab apple as a flowering tree is good for pollinators - bees and other insects, and provides fruit in autumn.
Looking at the hedge from a holistic point of view, regeneration should produce a habitat that’s all inclusive for all hedge flora and fauna – invertebrates, mammals, birds. Hedges are used as corridors for travel between woodlands, other habitats and hedges. Exposing the soil to light allows dormant seeds to germinate and plants that haven’t been seen for year may appear such as foxgloves and ragged robin. It’s a great way to rejuvenate not only the hedge but the ground flora around it.
Left: Eoin Donnelly HLAI Cleaning out the base of the hedge – down to bare soil. Right: Eoin Donnelly HLAI indicating the tree retained within the coppiced hedge
What to do.
A key point is to get the cuts as low to the ground as possible, but not right into the soil, just above the soil to produce new shoots. Next, the hedge must be cleared out of ivy, bramble and briars – down to bare soil if possible.
A tractor mounted circular saw can be used to reduce the height of the hedge to take out the heavy material, but will cut all at one level and is unlikely to cut low enough. After using the circular saw, the base must be cleared by hand using a slash-hook to cut out all vegetation. Then you can look at the stumps, check for stones and remove any wire before using a small chainsaw to reduce the height of the stumps to 2-3 inches all along humps and hillocks and dips.
The hedge and the margin or verge both sides must be protected from livestock, at least one metre so animals can’t reach in and take out the tops of the hedge.
Left to Right: Flowering trees: Whitethorn, blackthorn and crab apple
More information on hedges and hedgerow week is available here