Hedges & Woodland Group – The Steepers

What we do

Here in South Brent we are fortunate to live surrounded by fields, hedges, and trees. The Hedges and Woodland group aims to help sustain local wildlife habitats, to make better use of potential woodfuel and enjoy ourselves in the process. We continue learning and developing our skills, and our group is evolving over time. We have had training from the Devon Rural Skills Trust, and collaborate with the Woodland Trust and some local landowners. We are open to new people, and to new ideas.

Penstave Copse

SSB Hedges and Woodland Group is formally recognised as a collaborator in the management of Penstave Copse (Woodland Trust). Coppicing will continue each winter for the next 5 years.

Hedging and woodfuel

Hedgelaying is the traditional way to manage hedgerows. It long predates modern mechanical hedgerow management practices such as flailing and has numerous benefits. There are many local under-managed hedgerows, and laying helps rejuvenation by encouraging a flush of new growth which also benefits wildlife.


We share the work, and we share the wood extracted from hedges for firewood, having prior agreements from each landowner for us to take away wood cut from the hedge. The wood is processed into firewood by cutting and splitting; it’s kept under cover (currently at the Marsh) and later distributed among the group. We now have a stock of wood for two years ahead, allowing time for it to dry.


The harvest is hardwood species such as oak, hazel, sycamore, ash and holly. Some of it is small diameter wood which is often overlooked for firewood. Some is hedgerow ‘weed’ species which is considered a nuisance as it contributes to reduction of hedge biodiversity but nevertheless burns well. Since October 2016 sacks of “chunks” are available to the community for a small donation.


Throughout the winter, from October to the end of February this sub-group of SSB meets on a fortnightly basis. Currently, we have a ‘steward’ system, where we rotate responsibility, and the steward will offer instruction and/or team-up a beginner with a more experienced hedger.


The venue changes and lifts are arranged for each session,

E-mail woodgroup@sustainablesouthbrent.org.uk for details.


We have tools, waterproof hi-viz jackets, first-aid kit, and a risk assessment is completed on each outing. There are a variety of jobs involved in hedge-laying (or “steeping” as it is known in Devon). Light jobs include removing ivy and brambles from a section of hedge. Then individual stems, or steepers, can be disentangled, thinned and laid using a billhook. Crooks are made from off-cut branches to hold down the steepers and brash is piled up and burned or left for wildlife.

It is best to wear warm and fairly tough clothing. A hat, boots and gardening gloves or gauntlets are advisable to keep warm and protected. We encourage limbering up, and starting on light work to avoid muscle strain. Bring a hot drink and food if working all day.

Instruction is given periodically on keeping tools sharp. (Sharp tools make work easier to do, and produce a better end result. But they need to be handled with care, especially by beginners).

Chainsaw work…. Where a tree needs to be cut out of a hedge, (perhaps because it is in danger of toppling and damaging the hedge-bank or is shading out the hedge beneath) one qualified person will use a chainsaw to fell the tree, and cut up the wood into lift-able sections. This work is carried out before a hedge laying session -we don’t mix chain-sawing, with group work.


This is also a regular activity. We are currently working in partnership with the Woodland trust to manage some areas of Penstave Copse above Aish. Coppicing involves cutting trees down in the expectation that they will re-grow. We have coppiced some trees in Penstave Copse, alongside a ride, to let in more light, help dry the path and enable vegetation growth on the woodland floor. We hope to encourage an understorey of woodland trees, and greater species diversity.

Coppicing is an ancient woodland management technique that can be carried out with hand tools and makes use of easily worked and transported small diameter wood poles. Traditionally coppiced wood had thousands of uses and is still made into many products such as firewood, charcoal, hurdle fencing, gates and plant supports, furniture, cutlery and other household wares. We seek to increase management of local woodlands and are always keen to hear from local landowners to see whether they would be interested in having their woods/coppice managed.


We organise visits to interesting local woodlands, hedging competitions and other groups.


Occasionally we invite Devon Rural Skills Trust www.drst.org.uk to provide expert tuition in hedge-laying. Members of the group have received First Aid training Level 2 tailored to our activities.

How our group started

SSB earliest public meeting in 2007 resulted in a number of people expressing points about Trees and Woodlands. This was mainly directed at Woodfuel potential and Woodland use for recreation, traditional craft and Forest School type education. The group has in the past been involved in tree planting/seed collecting and organising visits to local Woodlands. We have held occasional Woodland Activity days.

In 2013 Dartmoor Circle  www.dartmoorcircle.org.uk  put together a ‘toolkit’ and obtained funding to inspire the formation of a number of new Woodfuel from Hedges groups in South Devon. The toolkit contained a template agreement between landowner and group, tree ID guides and practical information about tree management, as well as covering issues such as insurance.

Later that year SSB obtained Awards for All funding, some of which was used to support the new group by buying in expert tuition from Devon Rural Skills Trust, and to purchase billhooks, saws, loppers, hatchets, and more. It also helped fund the highly successful Wood Fair (see above)


Members pay £10 a year to help cover the costs of insurance and wood processing..


to other hedge-related websites, and groups:

For more information about the Wood Fair please contact Rowan on 0797 764 3376 or James on 07813 789795 or email sbwoodfair2017@gmail.com and go to our dedicated Wood Fair webpage.


Upcoming Events › Hedges and Woodland Group

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December 2017

Penstave Copse – coppicing

24 December @ 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Penstave Copse South Brent, Devon + Google Map

You are very welcome to join in our group work days or pop by to see what we're up to. No previous experience needed. We provide guidance, tools and equipment. Sessions run from 10 a.m. until about 3 p.m. Penstave Copse is located one mile north of South Brent, beyond Aish beside the road heading towards Shipley Bridge. The site is owned by the Woodland Trust. Lifts to the site are available by arrangement from the Station Yard carpark at…

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January 2018

Steepers: Peeps Wood bonfire; Leader James

1 January, 2018 @ 11:00 am - 3:00 pm
South Brent, Devon United Kingdom + Google Map
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Steepers: Underhill hedging; Leader: Oska

7 January, 2018 @ 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
South Brent, Devon United Kingdom + Google Map
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