We lay 5,000 yards of hedge each winter, thanks to all those bureaucrat s

COUNTRY LIVES; Daniel Butler talks to Geoff Rhys, hedge layer in Radnorshire
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The Independent Online
'We start work at daybreak and carry on till dark, making the most of the light. Hedge-laying is a winter job - you have to do it when the sap is down or you damage the trees. The season starts when the leaves come off - say October - and we keep going till they come out again in May. Now they're telling us we have to knock off by March because of nesting birds.

"Most days we're working by half-eight. We'll stop a couple of times - say for 15 minutes at 10.30 - for some bait [a snack]. Then back to work, with another quick break - maybe 20 minutes - for dinner. With days so short you can't stop for longer. Of course, we have to sharpen the saws and billhooks, too - especially if there's a lot of stones in the ditches. Sometimes we can go on all day without bothering, it just depends on the edge.

"We work as a team of two or three and hope to do 50 to 70 yards a day, lopping off the outside branches and half-cutting through the trunks - far enough to topple them over to lie in a three-foot wall - you always leave enough bark to let them grow on, mind! Then we go back, putting stakes in to hold the hedge steady and what we call "heatherings" - 15- 20 foot stakes which you interweave along the top to make sure the thing doesn't come up with the wind.

"I once worked in a factory and hated it. The money was good, but the boredom was terrible. I love this job because it's out in the fresh air and we're always on the move.

"Wood is another perk. A lot of farms now have oil-fired heating and don't want it. By taking it away, we're doing them a favour. I sell it as firewood locally. I get pounds 50 for a two-ton load.

"There's a downside of course - the weather. The season's so short you've got to put up with whatever it throws at you. Mind you, we stop if it's really wet or if there's heavy snow around the ditches - for safety, really. If you slip over with a chainsaw your leg's gone and if your gloves get wet the billhook can slip and you've lost a foot.

"We charge pounds 2-pounds 2.50 a yard, depending on how far gone the hedge is and the size of the job. Then there's the fencing on top: see, the main thing with a newly-laid hedge is it's got to be protected from stock with a fence on both sides: that's another pounds l.70.

"There aren't that many of us doing it now around here - certainly not the younger guys like me. It's a dying art. I had two or three weeks' training at college, but to learn it properly you've just got to do it.

"Mind you, there's lots of work, thanks to the grants. Farmers are using these to the full, and we do 5,000 yards each winter - thanks to all those bureaucrats in London and Brussels. But it's a pity the same people are paying the farmers to overstock - sheep are a hedge's worst enemy."

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