Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Novice hedge-maker grows into a champ

Ballycastle tree surgeon Jason Brennan

Tree surgeon Jason Brennan only took up the traditional rural craft of hedge laying last year – and now he's the All Ireland Champion.

Armed with a billhook, the Ballycastle man beat challengers from all over Ireland at the competition on Tom Rowland's farm at Kilmessan in Co Meath on Saturday – despite a rather bleary start due to lack of sleep.

The competition is only in its second year and was won last year by David Thompson from Greyabbey – meaning that the trophy has only been won by Northern Ireland competitors.

Hedge laying has been practised for hundreds of years and is the art of rejuvenating a hedgerow by cutting the stems part of the way through, close to ground level, so they can be laid and woven to create a stockproof barrier, while allowing the original stems to continue growing.

If carried out every 25 to 30 years, the technique can rejuvenate the hedge, allowing it to last for hundreds of years, creating a key habitat for wildlife and closing up gaps that livestock can get through.

Jason explained: "I was doing a bit of research last year to find if there was anywhere I could do training.

"I contacted the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland and they put me in touch with one of their representatives. They invited me to have a go at their first-ever national championship last year, where I competed as a novice.

"Then I got a call last week to invite me to the competition at the weekend."

Jason said he was delighted to learn he had won the novice class and even more delighted when he found he had taken the overall title, beating off competition from the contractors.

He was marked on the quality of cut and the hinge that connects the laid stem to the stump, the neatness of the stump and the uniformity of the sticks and willow binders used to weave the hedge into a stock-proof structure.

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