The History of the BHHA and the Annual Event

In 1997 Frank Edwards of Burnt House Farm, Combe St Nicholas, a life-long farmer of the Blackdowns conceived the idea of holding a hedgelaying competition on his farm and awarding a cup to the winner. The cup, to be called "The Percy Duck Challenge Cup", would honour the memory of a great countryman of the Blackdowns who had inspired Frank in earlier days. Percy Duck was a veteran of World War I who always turned up for work with his boots polished. A born countryman he was skilled at hedgelaying, ditching, banking up hedges, thatching, hoeing and numerous other tasks performed, without aid of machinery, by men of his generation . Using skills passed down through generations he took pride in carrying out every job to the highest standards.

Frank's idea was taken up enthusiastically by the Blackdown Hills Joint Advisory Committee (JAC), the precursor of the Rural Partnership, and other helpers rallied round. The JAC provided a marquee and organisations with an interest in hedges like the Wildlife Trusts, English Nature, FWAG and Butterfly Conservation were invited to set up displays inside. A baking competition was organised and the Women's Institute laid on refreshments.

The event was held in November. There were plenty of competitors for the hedgelaying competitions, the crowds came and the day was a huge success. It was agreed by all involved that it should become an annual event. The JAC supported the idea but recommended that an organisation be set up to manage the event. A group got together to organise a "Hedge Event" for 1998 and the Blackdown Hills Hedge Association was born.

The next venue was to be at Church Farm, Combe St Nicholas in October 1998 and the team worked hard to repeat the success of the previous year. Unfortunately gale force winds and driving rain forced the Hedge Event to be cancelled but the hedgelaying competitions were held four weeks later.

A programme of hedgelaying courses was set up which included free tuition for young hedgelayers.

It was agreed that future Hedge Events should move to other parts of the Blackdowns and the 3rd Event was held, courtesy of Roger Parris of Blackhayes Farm, Yarcombe, on Stockland Hill in October 1999. Although the day was wet the crowds came, there were plenty of entries for the hedgelaying competitions, and the marquee filled up with craft demonstrations, conservation displays, the baking competition, the W.I. dispensing refreshments and a constant stream of visitors. Outside were more displays and demonstrations by Cannington College, firms supplying hedging plants, fencing and traditional hurdles. The formula for a successful Blackdown Hills Hedge Event was beginning to take shape.

The Hedge Event in October 2000 was held, again courtesy of Roger Parris, at Blackhayes Farm itself. This time a large barn took the place of the marquee but otherwise the same formula as before resulted in a successful day in spite of persistent light rain.

The Hedge Event for 2001 was planned to be held in October at Chubbs Farm, Alston, near Axminster, courtesy of Bill Short, but foot and mouth intervened and the occasion was postponed until the following spring. Eventually, on a gloriously sunny day in March 2002 the 5th Blackdown Hills Hedge Event opened to the public with a large competition entry, a marquee bursting with craft demonstrations and displays and more stalls set up on the mown grass outside. It was generally agreed that the fine spring weather gave the whole show an extra fillip.

The 2002 Event was planned for October of that year at Yarty Farm, Membury, courtesy of Mr J. Dugdale but drenching rain, falling day and night, once again forced a cancellation. The competition was held a few weeks later on the same site in November. The weather was favourable but all the trimmings of the full Event and the crowds were absent.

Since so many October Hedge Events had suffered from rain, the Association decided to hold future events in the spring instead. But hedgelaying needs to be done before hedges come into leaf so the Event would have to be held in early March. This was too short a time after the last competition to be sure all our regular competitors would turn up so the 7th Hedge Event was moved forward to early March 2004.

It was held at Riggles Farm, Upottery, courtesy of Philip and Lloyd Stevens. The day before the opening the field was covered in snow. Fortunately this melted overnight and hot air heaters had been installed in the marquee. Once again the competition was full of entrants, the crowds rolled in, and the marquee buzzed with activity. Another successful Hedge Event was marked up.

Since that time the event has taken place every March and details of the subsequent events and the ones above can be found on the archive pages.

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