Hedgelaying at Mosswood Treatment Works

As a partnership project with Northumbrian Water Limited, the Heart of Durham Project volunteers get to visit some very different sites. On all these sites they are working to improve biodiversity and landscape connectivity on the land assets that surround sewage and water treatment works.

Mosswood treatment works, built in the 1960s and with original features still intact, was chosen by location scouts for the Inspector George Gently drama series set in 1969. In one episode, which aired in June 2013, the works became ‘Hopewood’, a top secret army drugs laboratory.

Drama of a different kind took place on Friday the 9th of February when Heart of Durham volunteers wielded their billhooks!

At Mosswood water treatment works, a hedge forms a valuable connection to the meadows and woodland compartments that surround the working part of the site. Sections of this hedge were laid 6 years ago with great effect, and this winter further sections are being worked on.

Hedges have great wildlife value, especially if they are laid and maintained. They act as wildlife corridors, providing shelter and cover for small mammals and reptiles and often, at their base, they have a distinctive hedgerow flora which is a valuable habitat for overwintering insects. In fact a hedgerow full of oak, hawthorn and hazel can support over 600 invertebrate species.

Birds prefer overgrown neglected hedges as they provide a varied for food supply, as well as sites for nesting. Hedges also have an important role in helping combat air pollution.

Exploited by man throughout history for shelter, firewood, coppice timber and wildfood in the form of berries, hazlenuts and small game (birds), severe loss of hedgerows by man started in the 1950’s with modern agricultural revolution and continues today with urbanisation.

Hedges got in the way of the large farm machines being used and, along with this, a decline in farm labour meant that hedgerows, especially layed hedges, were labour intensive and an unwanted financial burden to many farmers. With arable farming increasing hedges were seen to serve little purpose other than as a stock fence, with the more flexible barbed wire and electric fence becoming a more attractive option.

Neglect, convenience and economics of flail cutting has meant that hedges are given an annual cut and not allowed to grow up and thicken, resulting in a  line of shrubs with bare gaps at the bottom. A laid hedge increases biodiversity.

There are many regional styles of hedge laying, some of these are recognised and formalised in hedge laying competitions, where as others are local styles possibly only practised by a few individuals. The Heart of Durham style falls into the latter!

A laid section of hedge at Mosswood
Preparing the hawthorn shrub for laying by removing the guard
Trimming the side branches to form a “lollipop shape” to allow the srub to fall without entanglement in the adjacent shrub
Preparation, Preparation.
Starting the pleacher (a partial cut to the trunk) which allows the shrub to be layed