Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hedgelaying in Holland 2007

In March 2007 I was invited to attend the Dutch national hedgelaying championships and a one day conference on hedges (what else!) in Boxmeer, Holland. The Hedgelaying Association of Ireland had been asked to send a representative over to lay a hedge at the championships to demonstrate a 'typical' Irish laid hedge by a local NGO. I was not the first choice which wasn't so bad as there were only two contenders if I recall, and at the last minute the first choice had to cancel. So off I went, quite excited and not knowing what to expect. I was about to become the only person who has laid hedges in England, Ireland and now Holland!
Boxmeer is a small town about one and a half hours train journey from Amsterdam and I was put up in this lovely guest house overlooking the Maas River within walking distance from the site. The championships were also a part of a country show with stalls showing various 'country' crafts from cheesemaking. leatherworking, basketry and so on. All the competitors, including me, were taken to the site by a horse drawn carriage.
I was shown a small length of hedge, proabably twelve years old approximately, just as I'd seen in an earlier e-mail sent to me by Lex the organiser. This was a relief as I wasn't too sure I'd bring the right tools. So as the start was sounded for the competitors, I laid my bit in a cross between Yorkshire & Midlands style. I was interviewed a number of times by press, tv and radio. And of course being Dutch they all spoke amazing English and a couple of people even noticed that I was English even though I'd planted the Irish tricolour next to me. (Well, I had gone as an ambassador to Ireland!). For a hedgelayer like me it was interesting to see how hedges were laid this side of the channel. All across the UK & Ireland we are used to laying a hedge from the bottom, just above the roots and supporting the newly laid hedge with stakes, binders and so on. Not here. Hedges here are laid at three different levels. This avoids the need for stakes or any introduced support, no binding the top either. The resulting hedge is much stronger than ours!!
Far right = Dutch Style
Near right = An 'English' style  closely resembling a Yorkshire hedge, as laid by me at the competition.

After the event we all gathered for the results back in the village. These were duly read out and I was asked to take to the podium and give a speech on the various merits of Dutch v. Irish/UK styles of hedgelaying. Worse was yet to come as I was then asked to sing, along with the head of the Irish Rural Environmental Scheme and Catherine Bickmore, an English ecological consultant, a song. Luckily I'd got a bit of dutch courage by then (Amstel) and the words were provided for us. No one seemed to notice our brilliant rendition. The following day was the conference - in Dutch, and I received a beautiful book on the natural heritage in Holland, and much later in the day, home to Ireland. A jolly good weekend and all expenses paid! Thanks to Lex Roeleveld www.heggen.nu

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