Hazel, willow, beef and storytelling from Bedfordshire

A sallow rant

Sallow - destined for firewood

Sallow - destined for firewood

Starting to collect sticks together for some hurdle jobs and hedge stakes, I’ve been cutting sallow or goat willow, Salix caprea.

Now I know some of you will scoff at my use of willow for hedge stakes. Actually I know some of you will get quite cross about it. Everyone knows that willow will grow if used in a hedge, so it mustn’t be used.

We have a lot of sallow growing as a weed in amongst our hazel plantation, so I started cutting it out a few years ago. The poles produced were so nice – so strong and straight that it seemed a shame not to use them for something. It’s not as beautiful as hazel, not as hard and it does have a tendency to support a covering of algae, so handling it gives one something of a green tinge. But it’s strong and grows splendidly straight when coppiced. As I was embarking on laying a long length of hedge at the time, I thought I’d use it for stakes.

We’ve laid more than 200 metres of hawthorn hedge over the last four winters and used a high proportion of sallow for stakes. A few certainly produced leaves the following spring, but none survived the summer. It strikes me that a rootless willow stick, stuck in the middle of a vigorous hedge has very little chance of survival. And anyway, even if one or two did survive, that would add another native species to the hedge – no loss. In fact a gain; surely?

Which wasn’t what I was going to write at all. Some of the sallow I cut today before heavy rain and the needs of cattle called a halt to proceedings, will become stakes. However, much of it hadn’t been cut since its seed blew in, the autumn before the wood was planted in 1999 and had reached a base diameter of around 10 inches. These bits will end up as firewood at some point; for us rather than for sale. We all know willow spits on an open fire so we’ll use it in our wood burner. And suddenly I’m wondering if willow really does spit…   ..I feel a test coming on.

If you’d like to read more about our new or ancient woodlands, click here.

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