At a recent event in Gurteen Agricultural College for Teagasc Hedgerow Week, Catherine Keena and Francis Quigley went through some of the steps on coppicing hedgerows.
The process of coppicing hedgerows was described in detail at the event, with a contractor giving a demonstration.
Coppicing is a measure under the new ACRES scheme.
One of the most important jobs when coppicing is ensuring that you are coppicing the right hedge. Hedges in good repair do not need to be coppiced.
Escaped hedges or rows of trees should not be coppiced as they are too valuable for biodiversity and carbon.
Once leaves have fallen from hedgerows and birds have fed on the fruit, it is an ideal time to check the quality of your hedgerows. Unfortunately, farmers and advisers will be forced to make their choice in the coming weeks for ACRES.
At this time of the year most hedges look fairly good, covered by leaves and ground vegetation. They are a nice colour and have fruit. However, once those leaves die away it shows the real story of the hedge and Catherine noted that many hedges in Ireland are “upside-down toilet brush” hedges.
This means they were allowed to grow up and then were topped at a height of 1m to 1.5m, so there is a fringe of growth where the hedge was topped with a stump underneath, hence the name of an “upside-down toilet brush” hedgerow.
These hedges need attention. Once you’ve identified part of a hedge to coppice it must be made safe to work with. Remove all wire, fencing posts, staples or any rubbish that may be in the hedge.
There was an iron bar and some barbed wire found in the hedge in Gurteen after the row of wire was taken out. This could have caused a serious accident if the hedge was not cleaned out first.
The saw then cut the hedge off right at the butt and cut at an angle to allow rain to run off as much as possible. If rain is allowed to sit on parts of the hedge, it may cause the wood to rot.
After the saw has cut the hedge, the stumps may need to be cut cleanly or cut lower with a chainsaw where the blade cannot reach because of stones which will damage the blade.
The branches can be piled somewhere on the farm and will provide another habitat for biodiversity. Mulching is another option back on to the hedge, but keep branches clear so the light will get in.
Multiple new shoots will grow from the stumps and the following year they should be cut close to the stump again to allow them to thicken out and create a good hedgerow.
To avoid growing an “upside-down toilet brush” hedge on your farm you should prune a new hedge once it is planted, about an inch above ground level. This will allow more branches to grow and then the following year these branches should also be clipped. Keep clipping about an inch above the growing point to create a thick hedge that is stockproof, provides shelter and can store plenty of carbon.
If you are coppicing a hedge, only do a small length of a hedge at a time, although if it is for the new ACRES scheme you will have to comply with those requirements. Otherwise, it might be a good idea to try coppicing 10m, or so, and make sure that you get the hang of it before doing a long stretch.