Traditional hazel fencing – or 'wattle hurdles' as they're properly known – is as popular as ever, but not among the farmers who first used them. They're now a beautiful hand-made alternative to the cheap, mass-produced fence panels which have taken over the world. Tessa Waugh meets Simon Fowler, an artisan who has spent a lifetime honing his craft.
‘It’s a long time since farmers used hurdles like these,’ says Simon Fowler, yet wattle hurdles, which are made from hazel and sometimes willow, have been granted a second life as garden fencing, providing privacy from neighbours, and as attractive screens to hide oil tanks and wheelie bins from view.
Mr Fowler, who’s photographed here with his apprentice, Jack Crowshaw, has been making hurdles in Derbyshire since 1994 and is living proof that this isn’t a job for the faint-hearted. ‘We’re outside all year round and it involves hard work and long hours,’ he explains.
Hazel rods, like the ones in the above picture, are harvested from woodland that’s coppiced every seven or eight years in order to enhance the flora and fauna, then left to dry out for 4–6 weeks before use.
In a good week, Mr Fowler can make about 25 of the smaller 3ft-high hurdles – each one comprises nine uprights, with thinner round rods at the bottom and a central weave constructed from split hazel, which is twisted around at the end.
Buying cheaper, imported hurdles is a false economy, warns Mr Fowler: ‘They tend to be inadequately twisted at the end or made from rods that are sawn, rather than split with a billhook, which makes them weaker, less waterproof and much less durable.’
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