Introduction: Wood Fuel From Hedges - With John Whetman

As the price of fuel on the open market continues to fluctuate wildly, many farmers and land owners in the UK are looking to utilise their hedgerows as a valuable and reliable source of fuel for heating their homes and selling on as firewood. John Whetman, who works with the Devon Hedge Group, manages his hedges with several key factors in mind:

  1. Habitat for wildlife (John is a very keen wildlife enthusiast).
  2. Preserving the ancient skill of hedge laying.
  3. Beautification of the landscape.
  4. Cheap source of firewood.
  5. Helping delay the imminent climate change apocalypse.

John's hedge management is broadly divided into two main techniques, that of 'Coppicing', where the tree is felled in the normal way and extracted and that of 'Hedge Laying' where small trees or 'saplings' are laid over flat on the hedge in such a way that it continues to grow. He combines these two techniques together to extract firewood and rejuvinate the hedge.

In our modern times, most hedges no longer serve their original purpose of keeping livestock enclosed and are often thought of as a bit of a nuisance to the busy farmer/landowner. In this case, the hedge will often be trimmed with a powerful flail cutting machine which is used year on year to savagely thrash the hedge into submission. No firewood is harvested and the plants in the hedge will never produce berries and so is rather poor for wildlife. After a certain number of years, the hedge starts to develop large holes in it and starts to look fairly sorry for itself.

Through the combined techniques of coppicing and hedge laying, John is able to extract firewood and create a perfect place for wildlife.

Difficulty:..........
Cost:..........
Satisfaction:..........
Hazards:..........Chainsaw training required

Step 1: Tools and Equipment

Step 2: The Hedge Before Work Begins

At this stage the hedge is starting to look a bit scruffy, with some of the species such as blackthorn starting to get shaded out by the bigger trees such as ash and oak. John inspects the hedge carefully, making a mental note of the bigger trees for leaving, the intermediate suitable for coppicing and the smaller ones for laying. I think that the dog is looking for a rabbit?

Step 3: Coppicing Trees in the Hedge - Using a Rope

The first stage in this example is to put a rope around the tree, about half way up, to make sure that it falls into the field and NOT into the adjacent road! John uses a long straight, fork ended stick, a 3" D ring and 100' of polypropylene rope to make sure that the tree goes the right way. Larger trees would require longer steel cable.

The D ring is attached to the end of the rope and carefully inserted over and around branches in the middle of the tree. The ring is heavy enough so that it brings the rope down under it's own weight and the end of the rope is then threaded through the D ring to create a secure loop around the tree. The free end of the rope is then attached to the top link of the tractor and the tractor is slowly driven forwards until the rope is tight.

Step 4: Coppicing Trees in the Hedge - Creating a Hinge

There are now two cuts to be made in the base of the tree to enable it to fall over in the right direction. The first cut is on the compression side of the tree, closest to the tractor. A small wedge of wood is removed with the chainsaw, as shown in the photo, being careful not to cut more than 1/4 way into the tree.

Now the saw is positioned behind the tree, away from the tractor to make a final cut opposite the wedge, being careful not to go all the way through into the wedge. As John does this final cut, he stops when he can feel the tension released in the back of the tree and the rope starts to go slack.

John now finishes off this manoeuvre by carefully driving the tractor forward and pulling the tree over in a perfectly controlled manner into the field.

Step 5: Coppicing Trees in the Hedge - Removing the Rope From the Fallen Tree

The rope is now removed from the tree and the photo shows very clearly how the rope was looped around the tree using the D ring.

Step 6: Coppicing Trees in the Hedge - Removing the Side Branches

The side branches, or 'brash', is now removed from the trees with a chainsaw.

Step 7: Coppicing Trees in the Hedge - Making Cord Wood

The tree itself is now sawn into lengths of about 5 feet each, which is called 'cord wood'. These sections are easier to pick up and move around than a load of logs and the cord wood can be processed back at the ranch using a bench mounted circular saw rather than chainsaws, which is more efficent.

Step 8: Coppicing Trees in the Hedge - Disposing of the Brash Wood

Much of the tree is left in the field as it is too small to be processed into logs. This brash could be processed with a chipping machine to produce more fuel, but John actually burns it as his wood burners are not currently compatible with wood chip fuel.

Step 9: Laying Saplings in the Hedge - the Oblique Cut

After the coppicing and wood extraction is finished, John uses the Hedge Laying technique to ensure that any gaps in the hedge are filled and generally give the hedge more 'substance'.

The chainsaw is used to make an oblique or acute cute down one side of the sapling to create a small hinge as shown in the photo. The tree is now carefully angled back on this hinged and laid flat in the hedge. It is important to note that the acute cut is made directly opposite the direction that you want the tree to be laid.

Step 10: Laying Saplings in the Hedge - Pushing Over the Tree

These photos show the sapling laid flat and the hinge. Remarkably, this hinge is all that the tree needs to gain nutrients from the roots and it will quite happily sprout dozens of vertical shoots along it's length. Notice that the wood above the hinge has been cut off to leave a clean horizontal surface. Technically speaking, it's the bark or 'canbium' that transmits the essential nutrients.

Step 11: The Finished Hedge

In this photo you should see a nice looking dog and a hedge in the background. In the hedge are the stumps from where coppicing has been done and pieces of horizontal sections that have been laid flat. John leaves some of the larger trees untouched and these are spaced out at about 20 feet apart along the hedge.

Step 12: Three Years Later

These photos show what the hedge looks like about 3 years later. Notice the vertical growth on the horizontal laid sections.

Step 13: Mechanically Flailed Hedges

Lastly, here is a photo of a mechanically flailed hedge which has developed large holes in it. This hedge is not good for wildlife as the berries on trees such as blackthorn will only grow on stems that are untouched for at least 2 years and flailing must, by it's nature, be done every year. Amazingly, John's method is done on a 15 year rotation and surely must be better?

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Step 14: Resources

Book by the Devon Hedge Group, forwarded by HRH Prince Charles, heir to the throne of England.

Click on image below:

Comments

author
JM1999 (author)2015-02-09

Now, what is the difference between a hedge and a "wood fuel" hedge?

I am not up to scratch with hedges but this is an interesting looking structure!

author
Tecwyn Twmffat (author)JM19992015-02-09

That is a very interesting question. ? most of the hedges in the UK have trees in them that are short and stunted as they have been thrashed into submission by a powerful flailing machine pretty much every year. A woodfuel hedge would be a hedge that has been allowed to grow more naturally to a reasonable height, after which trees can be coppiced for firewood. There is some compromise here for the farmer, as the hedge would shade a small part of the field slightly. However, the flailing process is quite expensive and moreover the benefits for wildlife are massive!

author
JM1999 (author)Tecwyn Twmffat2015-02-10

So the tree has to be a certain height from root to top?

This is a pretty cool 'ible and I'm sure it serves it's purpose in the UK.

author
Tecwyn Twmffat (author)JM19992015-02-10

Yes the tree needs to be about 30 feet to be suitable for coppicing. You can definitely plant a hedge anywhere in America, obviously using local species for example if you live in the desert you might want to plant prickly pear. If you have a look in the resources section, you will find a book for sale that tells you exactly how to plant a hedge in temperate zones at least.

author
JM1999 (author)Tecwyn Twmffat2015-02-10

Cool, thanks for explaining this!

author
Tsanabe (author)2016-02-06

In Hedge Layering, once the hinge is created and the sapling is laid to the ground, does the sapling develop new roots, in time, that support the new vertical growth, or does the existing roots of the sapling support all new growth? I suppose it depends upon the species as to whether it will take root or not. Thanks, it was an interesting presentation!

author
Tecwyn Twmffat (author)Tsanabe2016-02-07

The horizontal sapling laid on its hinge will only grow new roots if it is in contact with the ground. Sometimes John pins the saplings down to make them touch the ground with a 'crook'.

author
fenikkusu (author)2015-02-22

I like this!

I like this because this is how all humans on the planet should be living (with nature) I'm not one of those earthy crunchy sorts, but I think resources should be wisely used. So much is needlessly discarded. We need to reuse and repurpose and burnable trimmings off of trees is part of that picture. I do it at my house in the U.S. I usually can get about 2 cords of good burnable hardwood from large boughs that break off due to storms! That's quite a lot of wood! And yes I cut it and split it and stack it by myself. (with my own Stihl) by the way I love that tiny Stihl you have, perfect for trimming. I've never seen one that small! You should write back and tell me the model number. My own is the one that can take the 18" or 22" bar. If I had one that size I'd trim the water shoots off my apple tree with it... all good burnable hardwood!

author
Tecwyn Twmffat (author)fenikkusu2015-02-22

Hello Fenikkusu, we used the Stihl MS211C and MS171 for this job as they are both light and easy to start. Thank you for your comment - yes I agree we should all live like this - one day it will be illegal to waste resources, such as going on needless flights to far flung places just to sit on a beach! I would not want to stop important business flights though. I hope you will join Tecwyn Twmffat's revolution? That's not my real name, by the way!

author
Vyger (author)2015-02-10

In many of the western states in the US we plant what are called wind breaks. Big ones around fields and smaller ones around houses. As the name implies the point is to provide a sheltered area from the wind. They are not meant to be so dense as to prevent livestock from going through them. Usually they end up being a haven for deer. The usual way to plant them is to use several variates of trees that are of differing height. So tall growing trees will make up the row or rows in the middle, then next to them will be a shorter growing tree and on the outside on both sides will be a short growing variety. Usually they try to match the tree types as to their longevity and the speed of their growth. And how hardy they are. A typical combination for my area would be Elm for the middle with Russian Olive on either side and then a row of Caragana https://www.google.com/search?q=caragana&sa=X&biw=... which is a shrub type of tree. The result is a "hedge" that stops the wind and captures the snow in the winter. This prevents the soil from blowing away and keeps more moisture in the area. What is interesting is that many of the wind breaks have outlived the houses and buildings they were once planted to protect. A lot of times you can see these from a distance away and when you get close you find the remnants of a basement or a chimney where the house used to be. I suspect that they don't use this technique in the UK because it uses a lot more land. Wind breaks are wide and once planted are pretty much left to their own. But we have wind problems and have far more open land than you do there. The idea of laying the trees down does surprise me. I would have thought that they would have used a shorter denser growing type tree rather than forcing a larger tree to become a short bramble one. I have seen people do something like this with Elms though. They just cut them off and keep them branching out rather than letting them grow tall.

author
Tecwyn Twmffat (author)Vyger2015-02-11

Thanks Vyger , that's really interesting!

author
Vyger (author)Tecwyn Twmffat2015-02-11

What I find really interesting is that this is a totally different management and a totally different result for a row of trees. The idea of a wind break is to have tall mature trees that can withstand the harsh weather and moderate the conditions on the nearby ground. They want tall strong trees that can withstand high winds.

The hedges on the other hand are just the opposite. They want shorter thick growth that can be harvested for wood (which does not require splitting) and a barrier to ground traffic. Very interesting.

author
Vyger (author)Tecwyn Twmffat2015-02-11

Found a bunch of pictures for tree windbreaks.

https://www.google.com/search?q=tree+windbreak&biw...

author
Vyger (author)2015-02-11

I had never heard the term coppicing and so looked it up. Wikipedia has a nice explanation of it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coppicing

I never knew a tree could be kept from dying of old age by doing this. Apparently some are so old that they can't even determine the age anymore. But it has to specifically be a tree that will grow back from the ground.

author
bricobart (author)2015-02-10

Fantastic Ible - nothing better than waiting for the apocalypse in style!

You know, I discovered the technic of hedge laying a few years ago - or at least, a variation of it. It was an old farmer, cutting a three year old hawthorn hedge like 2/3, and weaving the branches one into another. I saw the result a few years later, and it had become an impenetrable sticky fortress. The man told me that, at Roman times, it was a very common way to separate parcels of land, and to slow down invaders progress - something that was repeated, btw, at the allied landing in Normandy. It dured more than one month (!) before the allied troops were finally able to leave the boccage behind.

Too bad, most of those ancient hedges are gone now and it's a pleasure to see that, where you live, the technic is kept kicking.

Hold the fortress friend!

author
Tecwyn Twmffat (author)bricobart2015-02-10

Fantastic comment, thank you so much! I would hardly describe John's place as a fortress though, except that most of the fields are extremely steep.

author
Mielameri (author)2015-02-09

This is so cool. Thanks for sharing!

author
Tecwyn Twmffat (author)Mielameri2015-02-09

You are very welcome

author

This is really interesting! I always love reading your instructables, I feel like I learn something completely new every time! Hedges like this don't really exist where I live. I love reading about apocalypse preparedness around the world! haha

author

Hey thanks Danger! The apocalypse awareness comp. has provoked much debate down here in Devon. Can't wait to see people's entries!

author
BeachsideHank (author)2015-02-09

Might not some of that brash be suitable candidates for charcoal production, using the worst of the lot for the conversion fuel?

author

Audrey, John's wife, says that after the apocalypse the brash will certainly be burnt by themselves and their friends and neighbours.

author

Thank you for your comment. John says that you would need to use the cordwood for making charcoal because the brash does not compress very well underneath the oven. Personally I think that Chipping would be the answer, it would hesitate hiring a chipping machine and trying to sell the chips.

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