Cumbria’s landscape is blessed with around ten and a half thousand miles of hedgerows, providing vital wildlife habitats and connecting corridors, slowing the flow of rainwater, protecting soils and locking in carbon. Without good management through a cycle of hedge laying, they grow tall and leggy, with gaps developing and eventually they grow old and die off. 

With over half of hedgerows being lost between the 1940s – 1990s, there are more grants available to farmers and landowners to both plant new hedges and improve the condition of existing ones. So it’s essential that there are enough skilled people in the workforce to meet the demand to manage and lay more hedges across Cumbria and elsewhere.

We started our annual hedge laying competition back in 1978 to encourage more hedge laying to take place and help to keep the traditional skills alive. Working in partnership with the Lancashire and Westmorland Hedge Laying Association (L&WHLA), today, there is more hedge laying in the South Cumbria and North Lancashire area than anywhere else in the Country.

Picture above: hedge laying competitors from our winter competition 

Last winter, skilled trainers (Joe Craig, Peter Gibson, Andrew Kirkwood and Dave Padley) in the L&WHLA worked with partners and trained over 70 people to hedge lay, both complete beginners and those wanting to improve their skills on more challenging older hedges. Hedge laying training days were organised by the Arnside and Silverdale and Forest of Bowland National Landscapes, the Ernest Cook Trust at the previous Newton Rigg farms and the Friends of the Lake District’s event at the end of January at Low Sizergh Farm, near Kendal.

Peter Gibson, Chair of the L&WHLA and one of the Trainers, said: “As well as laying over a mile of hedgerows each winter, I have been training people up for several years, especially young farmers. I take immense pride when one of the young farmers I trained a few years back are able to beat me to top place in some of the Hedging competitions!

"I know from my order books the demand for capable hedge layers just grows year by year. You can earn a good income over the winter months, and we hope that many of this year’s crop of trainees go on to better manage our hedgerows.”

“Friends of the Lake District are proud to host an annual Hedge Laying Competition and training days,” added Landscape Engagement officer Kay Andrews. “It was fantastic to see some of the trainees in our competition and follow their progress. We look forward to continuing to help pass this important heritage skill among generations.”