aoife's interviews

roof garden home


aoife interviews mark, who created the hurdled walls of the wildlife bed.

Aoife: Ok Mark, could you tell us about your craft, what do you do?

Mark: Well my craft is hurdle making, it's the oldest woodcraft in the world. They know this because hurdles have been found in Somerset that are about 1000 years old; they were used as paths across the marshes. Hurdles were mostly used to make building and fences.

A: And what do you use to make your hurdles?

M: There are four types of wood you can use; rowan, ash, hazel and willow. I split my wood down the middle, gives me twice the materials, I use a billhook for that. A billhook is a blade that's curved so it's like a bird's beak, that's why it's called a billhook.

A: So were did you learn make these hurdle things?

M: I learnt from three lovely old boys- I used to work as a hedge cutter and a ditch digger. Well these guys used to be farmers back before the First World War and in the winter when there was nothing to do they would thatch roofs with hazel and build fences, they taught me to make hurdles.

A: Nang. So you have a wood?

M: Yes I manage a wood in Essex. I manage it in the traditional way, I coppice wood to get my materials for my hurdle making.

A: Coppice?

M: Coppicing is the traditional way of caring for woodland, it's a special way of cutting the tree down to the ground so new shoots can grow. I coppice every 7 to 20 years depending on the tree. Most of our native woodland plants depend on coppicing because when you take the trees down it lets the light in so they can grow.

A: Are the hurdles that you can buy in garden centres traditionally made or are they, like fake?

M: Well if they are made in England then yes they are but if you buy a Polish or other European ones they are only nailed together so there not very strong. The great thing about the traditional way of making hurdles is that you can get a continuous weave so there are no sharp edges and it looks very good to the eye.

A: So your wood, what types of animals and plants do you get?

M: My wood supports some very rare types of orchid as well dormice, badgers, foxes, weasels, stoats, shrews and voles also a lot of birds; chaffinches, tits, several species of owl, kestrels, we even have a buzzard that comes around now.

A: Wicked. So what animals could we expect to have in our garden I mean it's on like the third floor!

M: Well you'll defiantly get mice, they can climb like we walk down the street, and we're going to introduce some toads.

A: Toads!

M: Well if you put some toad spawn in your pond they'll keep coming back there to breed and they crawl not hop like frogs so they won't try and jump off the roof. Also toads will eat insects so you won't have so many pests. The school is right next to Ally Pally so you'll get woodpeckers and other birds because they have a lot of woodland there so birds will come. It was also said we would bring some logs down fro my wood, habitat logs with lots of invertebrates living in them.

A: Thank you Mark.

*that concludes this interview*

Aoife's Random Facts

Celtic Round Houses: Mark (interviewed above) as a traditional woodsman still uses some of the methods used by the Celts across Europe even as far back as the Neolithic period (4000-2000 BC) to build houses. The Celtic round houses are often referred to as crannogs and of course, were round. [Taken from without permission but with thanks] The size of the crannog was an indication of the status of the person living there, much as is the case in native African settlements today. As with African and North American Indian buildings, crannogs were round because, as people all over the world discovered independently, a circle is a physically strong structure for a building, with no part of the building bearing more load than another, i.e., it is the perfect shape for even distribution of load. The adoption of this shape meant that the builder could select small diameter timbers and dispense with the need for exhaustive cutting, shaping and jointing of wood. The timbers were supplied on a cyclical basis from "coppice" woodland and the need to select straight poles with minimal taper, suggests that the woodlands were actually managed to get that type of wood. The coppicing also gave the "withies" for weaving the wattle walls. We could say that the crannog builders were also capable foresters and "silviculturalists".


london community herbalists roof garden at north harringay primary school :: all website content © 2005