‘Brash’ by Shane O’Reilly

Plenty of brash to chip here!

Plenty of brash to chip here!

Don't bust the visor!

Don’t bust the visor!

There are rude folk who say me writing about brash is very apt as it befits my character, but the subject of my next few paragraphs is the debris left when a hedge is trimmed back in preparation for laying. When Simon holds a hedge laying course, as he does every year, it is down to his team to prepare the terrain in readiness for the eager students. Of course the reduction of the hedge to its bare minimum and the removal of the brash, is an important, and strenuous, part of hedge laying, but it is also time consuming and detracts from the learning.

Skillful work

Skillful work

The skilful part is of cutting the hedge stems to within a whisker of their cambium layer and pushing them over, thereby the term “laying” it. These lucky people have their hedge manicured with all the brash removed, posts neatly stacked and the binding weavers also laid by in anticipation of them successfully laying their section of the hedge.

Into the Timberwolf you go

Into the Timberwolf you go

For the forestry team, it means fighting to cut it out, struggling with it to drag it out of the ditch where it’s fallen (there’s always a ditch), and then beating it into submission by way of the jaws of the mighty “Timberwolf” chipper until finally it is reduced to a pile of garden mulch. My words may give the impression of a conflict and indeed that is what it is. The hedge may well be comprised of mild Spindle, but is more typically Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Rose Hip with an outer layer of brambles for good measure. Thorn is the operative word here. Each flailing tendril wants to embed itself into your flesh or at the very least rip your protective clothing to shreds. It’s not for show that we are issued with leather / canvas gloves and hard hats with both ear protectors and more importantly “VISORS”. When these visors are issued to us and we have to sign in blood for them. If ‘we’ damage them we have to pay for them.

Chips everywhere!

Chips everywhere!

The idea of the visor is to protect your face and eyes from projectiles emerging from Timberwolf’s gnashers as they sometimes do. Most dangerous are the writhing lengths of bramble that seem to squirm and whip as the ‘Wolf’ drags them into the hell that for them is the chippings pile. We are constantly reminded as to the cost of said visors and that we must keep them from damage, never mind that the thing has just been smashed by a 2” thick branch that would have left a hefty bruise. Someone please tell him that PPI is there to resist damage and is a “consumable”.

Turning out for an eight o’clock start on a mid-January morning is hard. So when we meet for task briefing it is with our thickest thermals in place. Don’t worry they are not for public viewing.

Knock and job

Knock and job

In fact I have only had to resort to them as outer wear when Albert decided to hose me down with pig effluent. As the hose man in charge of drain hose positioning, I had to advise Albert and his 5,000 gallon vacuum tank when the hose was in place. In response to the question “Are you ready”, I said “Noooo” and to this day he swears he heard “Goooo”! As a result I had to strip off my jeans and finished the day in thermals. If any of you out there past the first flush of youth are thinking ‘Jeggings’ are a good look, then stop now. It was a cross between John Wayne, as he gets out of his bedroll, and Ickerbod Crane. Nonetheless, I stand by, and in, thermals especially in January.

Frosty morning at the Gloucesters

Frosty morning at the Gloucesters

Huddled in the staff room, discussing tasks and locations, the January weather is not so strongly felt, but out on top of the Gloucesters hill as the wind rushes up your trouser leg they are a necessity. But there is little you can do to provide warmth to your fingers. The strong leather gloves are fine against the barbs of brambles but not a January wind and in -4oC, fingers without warmth become painful. The only answer is to get stuck in, dragging the tangled mass to the mouth of the herbivorous Timberwolf, pushing it in to its doom. Have you tried to push a bramble?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Although it was only a small section that was cut back, it did take the best part of two hours to chip. By the end of which, we were all roasting hot and had begun to strip off out layers. Hands, now toasty warm, were luxuriating in the heat generated from the task and the biting cold of earlier just a memory. As soon as we stopped however, the cold hit back and we quickly had to put back those layers shed earlier. A well ‘layed’ hedge is a thing of beauty. So, you new hedge layers, enjoy the day, learn the art of cutting a growing stem back to nearly severing it completely but not quite, be enthusiastic as your hammer in your posts and relish the joy of weaving in the top binding.

Well laid hedge

Well laid hedge

But as you stand back at day’s end to admire your handy-work, look down below your feet and think about the piles of now dispersed chippings, ‘cos next time you’ll be doing your own brash cutting.

About Sadeik

You may ask why "Sadeik" well it means friend in arabic. Worked in Jordan a lot doing tree surgery you see. I have worked in forestry since I left school with a two years in Telecom. Went back to forestry and tree surgery as it may not have paid as much but was far more interesting and dangerous. Spent a lot of years mountaineering, caving and canoeing too. At 29 I went to Bangor University to study Forestry and soil science then did an MSc in Water engineering all very interesting. By a quirk of fate in 1995 ended up helping sort out the woodland and park at Wimpole, funny thing was then I only intended to stay six months or so, but 18 years later I'm still here learning all the time. That's the best bit, if I wasn't able to learn something new every year I would not have stayed and as you get older you realise that the grass is not so green in the next field after all. In fact my patch is getting greener while much of the rest is getting browner.
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