New Forest commoners learn hedgelaying skills


Published Friday 28 February 2014

Commoners in the New Forest have been going back to their roots learning traditional hedgelaying techniques to boost wildlife.

A recent two day course, run by the New Forest Land Advice Service, taught members of the commoning community the traditional skills needed to maintain their own hedges. Commoners are those who occupy land or property within the New Forest that gives them special rights, including grazing ponies, pigs, sheep or cows freely.

Those attending the course at Walhampton, in the New Forest, learnt about the process of laying a hedge and had the opportunity to try their hand at hedgelaying using traditional bill hooks and small axes. The trainees worked as a team to layer the hedge and ensure it will remain in good health for around eight years.

Managing hedges using traditional techniques instead of mechanical methods encourages vigorous regrowth and ensures hedges live longer. Mechanically managed hedges can develop gaps at their base through which livestock can pass, further damaging the hedge.

Trainee James Humphries, from Ashurst Bridge in the New Forest, said: ‘I found it a very positive experience to learn not just about hedgelaying but also about what the National Park and Wildlife Trust are doing in the New Forest and how they go about it.

‘My family has been in the New Forest for many generations and it has long been a dream of mine to contribute in some way to the continued close relationship between the Forest and its inhabitants. With this in mind it is my plan to move into some area of woodland management and this course was invaluable for widening my skills.’

Hedgelayer Andrew Birnie, who is based near Winchester, said: ‘I enjoy teaching hedgelaying as it is the best method of managing a hedgerow and encourages growth from the base. It is important that people understand and practice this technique so that future generations can enjoy the wildlife that thrives in our hedgerows.’

Rhys Morgan, New Forest Land Advice Service Advisor, said: ‘The course was a great success, with glorious weather and 22 people attending over the two days. The highlight for me was seeing a group of mostly strangers go from not knowing how to lay a hedge at the beginning of the day to working as a team to lay a sizeable section of hedge by the end.

‘We are planning to run another hedgelaying course next year after the success of this event. We want to ensure that we teach these crucial skills to as many commoners and local landowners as possible in order to improve hedgerows in the National Park.’

The New Forest Land Advice Service is funded by the New Forest National Park Authority, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and the Verderers.

For information on future training courses, or if you own hedgerows within the New Forest in need of renewal, email


Notes to photo editor:

Richard Harris-Jones (left) and a fellow trainee learn hedgelaying techniques at Walhampton, in the New Forest.

Notes to editor:

About the New Forest Land Advice Service

The New Forest Land Advice Service is available to landowners and occupiers who would like advice and support on a wide range of issues relating to land management. The advisors operate across the National Park, the Avon Valley and the coastal plain. Since the service started in 2010 it has advised more than 300 businesses.

The service offers:

  • A free and independent service for the land managing community in and around the New Forest and Avon Valley
  • Support for landowners, farmers, New Forest Commoners, equine owners, graziers and community groups
  • Advice to anyone who owns or manages a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) in the area
  • A small grant scheme which can support capital works which benefit the landscape, biodiversity and cultural heritage of the area.

To find out more about the New Forest Land Advice Service, or arrange a visit, please call 01590 646696 or email

About the New Forest National Park Authority

Protect - Enjoy - Prosper

The New Forest National Park Authority’s statutory purposes are to:

  • Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park - Protect
  • Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities – Enjoy.

We also have a duty to:

  • Seek to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park – Prosper.

The New Forest National Park was designated in March 2005. Its unique landscape has been shaped over the centuries by grazing ponies, cattle and pigs which roam free. Majestic woodlands, rare heathland and a spectacular coastline provide fabulous opportunities for quiet recreation, enjoyment and discovery.

Visit to find out more

Media Contact:
Matt Stroud, Communications Assistant, New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646650

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