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Billhooks at the ready as competitors battle for Devon hedge steeping crown

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 30, 2012

Competitors battle to become Devon hedge laying champion

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Competitors from all over the South West will be travelling to Scoriton later this week to take part in the Devon Rural Skills Trust's hedge laying competition.

The annual event is this year being held on Saturday, November 3, at Scoriton Farm, Deer Park Lane, Scoriton near Buckfastleigh. Participants face a five-hour challenge to complete their section of hedge and can compete in three classes – novice, intermediate and open – according to their ability. Cups and cash prizes are awarded to the winners of each class

Event organiser Don Gaskins said, "Places have filled up very quickly this year so sadly we can't accept any more entrants – but that is a good sign that hedge laying as a craft is very much alive and kicking in Devon. Our event also falls during Devon Hedge Week and it would be a great opportunity for spectators to come and see people carrying out an ancient rural skill, which is still being widely practised by professionals in the region – and have a fun day out."

Some of Devon's hedges are over 500 years old while some date back as many as 4,000 years. Most hedges were originally planted for stock control before the advent of wire fencing and the craft of hedge laying (or hedge steeping as it is known in Devon) developed as a method of maintaining the stock proof nature of the hedges while keeping the growth of the plants dense, young and bushy. Hedge laying greatly prolongs the life of a hedge and also provides the other benefits of creating a wind break, shelter and shade for livestock and a dense, continuous habitat for wildlife.

The Devon style of hedge laying involves partially cutting through living saplings near ground level and bending them over to lay flat along the hedge. The 'steepers' are laid in two combs and staked into place to form a living fence. On the day, competitors will use only hand tools such as axes, slashers and billhooks, to lay their section of hedge.

The competition takes place between 9.30am and 2.30pm. The judges will announce the winners before the event finishes at 4.30pm.

The Devon Rural Skills Trust is a charity which aims to keep alive the traditional crafts and skills such as coppicing, dry stone walling and hedge laying which have been practised in the county for centuries.

The trust runs weekend courses and a training scheme which aims to help young people develop the expertise necessary to enable them to earn a living from the crafts taught by the Trust as well as preserving the fabric of the countryside.

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