The new All-Ireland Hedge Laying champion Robert Hogg.

Hedge laying champ now branching out

Hedge laying is not only good for the environment, it is also good for farmers’ bank balances. That’s the advice from the new All-Ireland Hedge Laying Champion Robert Hogg, a native of Castletown Geoghegan, County Westmeath.

Despite being a relative novice, Robert saw off the challenge of more experienced competitors to win the championship, which took place in County Down on October 7.

In fact, to make a special day even more memorable, Robert also won the Best Improver category.

He says that winning the all-Ireland title was the perfect end to his third season hedge laying. He says that hedge laying “is a hobby that has grown into an obsession at this stage”.

“I am very interested in it. I am constantly reading up on things and doing courses.”

Hedge laying is a traditional farm management technique dating back thousands of years and was originally developed as a way of containing livestock in fields.

It involves cutting hedgerow stems most of the way through, near ground level, so that they will bend without breaking and will continue to grow. New growth comes from the cut stump, rejuvenating the hedge and thickening up the base.

Well laid hedges are also important wildlife havens and have been proven to improve biodiversity. In recent years hedgerows have also been recognised for their role in helping combat the worst effects of climate change by capturing carbon dioxide and storing it as carbon in woody growth.

Since the introduction of the Glas Scheme in 2015 and the Acres Scheme earlier this year, increasing numbers of farmers have become aware of the importance of biodiversity and the demand for hedge laying courses, and the numbers of contractors carrying out the specialised work have increased.

For anyone thinking of doing a hedge laying course, the local all-Ireland champion says it is hard, but rewarding work and the perfect antidote to the stresses and distractions of the digital age.

“It’s labour intensive, it’s physical, but I love it. You are outside and there are no mobile phones or anything like that.”

Robert, who is a member of Hedgerows Ireland, the not-for-profit formed to raise awareness about the benefits of hedge laying, says he has learned a lot from his friend Eamonn McLoughlin, a hedge laying instructor and farmer from Moate. In the weeks leading up the all-Ireland championship, Robert spent a lot of time honing his skills on Eamonn’s farm.

Robert also farms with his father Martin and in the last couple of years they have replanted a hawthorn hedge, which will improve biodiversity on their land.

Robert says that increasing numbers of farmers are looking at ways to improve biodiversity, climate, air and water quality on their land and schemes such as Glas and Acres provide them with financial incentives to do so.

“I would encourage farmers to look after their hedges and to lay hedges on their farms, as that improves biodiversity and is a great way of capturing carbon.”

Lorry driver Robert is in the process of branching out (pun intended) as a hedge laying contractor. Once he is registered, potential customers can rest assured that they have hired one of the best in his field.