Hedgerow rejuvenation

Hedgelayer James Boxhall at work on the hedges of Windmill Farm. Photo: Andrew Craig

Historic field hedges at Kyneton’s Windmill Farm are being painstakingly restored by a specialist hedgelayer.

Property owner Sallyanne Craig said the 170-year-old hedges were significant enough to be heritage-listed, but were in poor repair.

“Their advanced age and the absence of proper management for perhaps 70 years means they are in an exceptionally perilous state,” she said.

“Fortunately, the hawthorn’s biological nature can work in its favour – cutting an older tree down to its base instigates the fresh growth of many smaller shoots, which quickly grow.

“Victorian Heritage deemed the season-specific works worthy of a matched-funds Living Heritage grant in 2020 believing the restoration of Windmill Farm’s extensive remnant hedgerows will offer people a much better understanding of how a historic farm functioned.”

Ms Craig said hedgerows also played a significant conservation role within otherwise intensively managed rural landscapes through the provision of habitat, food and refuges for a wide range of plant and animal species.

“Where much of the landscape has been given over to pasture grasses with low biodiversity possibilities, hedgerows are a lifeline for biodiversity,” she said.

Tasmanian hedgelayer James Boxhall has spent close to 30 years restoring hawthorn hedges.

He specialises in true hedge restorations, bringing hedges back to a working, stockproof condition, not only as a form of preservation, but also as a form of value adding on a modern farm.

Mr Boxhall said the 1864 Kyneton Observer’s description of the “trimly kept” hawthorn hedges at Windmill Farm suggested they would have been planted in the 1850s, not long after the original land grant.

“This form of stock enclosure was the technology of the day, and along with drystone walls and split post and rail fences, was a common sight throughout the early farming settlements of Victoria,” he said.

Mr Boxhall said laying (often referred to as hedgelaying, setting or plashing) was the method used to keep a hedge stock-proof.

It involves cutting (pleaching) partially through the stem of each plant at ground level and laying the stem over at 30-40 degrees.

Vigorous new shoots grow from below the cut, and all the way along the partially severed stem, renewing the hedge.

To keep hedges stock-proof and healthy, hedges were layed every 20 -30 years, depending on trimming regimes.