16 of us turned out in the drizzle for a workshop on wood fuel from hedges on Sunday, on what turned out to be a beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable day!
One of a series of free events organised by Devon Hedge Group with Awards for All funding, it included a history of hedges and an introduction to hedge management, and guidance on how communities and land owners can work together. A hedge laying demonstration and a hands-on session of hedge laying gave us an appetite for a lovely lunch from the Kitchen Table. Rob and Andrew really demonstrated the potential of the demand for local sustainable wood fuel to encourage better management of our hedges with benefits for landowners (e.g. stock control and reduced maintenance costs), people in the community (e.g. access to free wood fuel, and the health benefits of getting your hands dirty!), and for biodiversity.
There's clearly an opportunity to connect the dots and have local people 'adopting' a hedgerow, managing it, and harvesting fuel, and Andrew can provide further guidance on how to go about it.
There were a few facts about our hedges which surprised me:
- 2/3 of our hedges in Devon are over 600 years old
- Devon has 33,000 miles of hedge!
- There is more potential wood fuel in our hedges than in our small woodlands
- There's a huge amount of regional variation in the way hedges are laid
- It can cost a farmer tens of thousands of pounds a year just to flail their hedges – and they still have to fence them as they're not stock-proof unless managed correctly
You can manage hedges by either laying them or coppicing, and produce logs or wood chip for a biomass boiler (which is less wasteful, but more of a commercial operation). There was plenty of interest in both fuel options, either for people's wood burners at homes, or for larger biomass heating schemes – including the Transition Homes sustainable development in Dartington, which will have a district heating system fuelled by woodchip – and the more local, the better. We'll be having further discussions with Oliver to see if we can take this forward!
If you weren't able to make it, but would be interested in joining a community group to harvest your own wood fuel from hedges in an arrangement with a local land owner (or have land with hedges that need managing) then please email Nicola (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll arrange a follow up open meeting with further guidance from Andrew, to get the ball rolling.
With thanks to Devon Hedge Group's Rob Wolton, Andrew Shadrake, and Devon Rural Skills Trust's Maxine McAdams for their advice and expertise, Oliver Watson of Riverford Farm for his input and use of their land, and to everyone who turned out to lay a lovely stretch of hedge!
There are a number of resources available including a free booklet on Woodfuel from Hedges - a toolkit for communities, a Wood Fuel from Hedges book, and Rob's latest book on Devon Hedges - please contact Rob to get a copy of any of these.