Hedgerow Maintenance

All information is from here:

Hedgerow Management and Wildlife PDF document

Check if you can work on hedgerows or hedgerow trees

Before carrying out any work on hedgerows or hedgerow trees to trim, cut, coppice or lay a hedge you need to be aware of conditions that may affect what you can do.

Nesting birds

These are most likely to be found in the main nesting period: 1 March to 31 August.

If nesting birds are present, you mustn’t undertake any work which might harm the birds or destroy their nests, or you’ll commit an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Tree protection orders and licensing
Before carrying out work on hedgerow trees you should check:

  • whether the tree is covered by a tree preservation order – issued by the LPA
    whether you need a felling licence – issued by the Forestry Commission
  • If you receive payments on your land
  • If your land is included in the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), there are further restrictions on how you manage your hedgerows and hedgerow trees. See Cross compliance: guidance for 2015 (section GAEC 7a: Boundaries and GAEC 7c: Trees).

If you have an Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreement or Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreement (from 2015) make sure you know what conditions apply to hedgerows and hedgerow trees under the terms of your agreement.

See the Hedgelink website for information on management of your hedgerow and hedgerow trees, including new planting.

Report a suspected hedgerow offence

Hedgerows with nesting birds: If you suspect an offence has been committed in relation to nesting wild birds you should contact your local police force and report the incident to them. Ask for the case to be investigated by a Wildlife Crime Officer.

Hedgerows included in BPS or an environmental land management scheme
If you suspect someone is doing work on a hedgerow which is against the rules of the scheme, you should try to check the details before reporting it further. If you still have concerns you should report them to:

Rural Payments Agency on 0345 603 7777 or email: csc@rpa.gsi.gov.uk if the person has a BPS agreement.
Natural England on 0300 060 3900 or email: enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk if the person has an ES or CS agreement.

Following information is from Hedgerow Management Website

The importance of management
A hedge is a dynamic entity, it will always be trying to develop into a line of trees through natural succession. We can think of a hedge as a woodland edge because often the species we find in a hedge are also to be found as part of a woodland edge. Indeed many of the oldest hedges were formed as woodland was cleared and the woodland edge left as a boundary. If we require a hedge not to turn into a line of trees or we want to keep it thick and stock proof, we want to provide certain habitats for specific species or we just want to keep a hedge ‘neat’ then we need to manage hedges.

Most of the British landscape is man made in that human activity often through farming has created habitats that would all but disappear without management. Heathland, chalk grassland and moorland are just three examples. Hedgerows are no different, they were created by man and require management to ensure their both their condition and their survival.

All hedges need management
Management has to be sympathetically carried out and over management or neglect can be a threat to hedges. Over management is caused by excessively tight trimming over a long period. It is more typically seen on single species Hawthorn hedges which in time form a bottomless mushroom shape and slowly die out.

Many Hawthorn hedges were regularly layed up until the 1950s when there was far more farm labour available. Since then, more often than not they have been cut at the same height each year and this has resulted in slow decline in condition. Even some species rich hedges growing on banks have over time degraded due to excessive cutting.

Repeated cutting at the same height may be done in the name of neatness or for safety reasons along roadsides, but within the hedge each stem is going through a natural ageing process. Stems become larger and often knarled and twisted due to the constant cutting taking place above. In effect the hedge is under stress and constrained by such a regime and if we are not careful we may loose many hedges imperceptibly as they slowly fade away.

At some stage we need to relax the cutting regime and allow the hedge to incrementally increase in height. By doing this we allow the hedge to ‘breath’ and if we act before stems start to die out then a hedge can remain ‘healthy’ for a considerably longer time. It is the density of stems in a hedge that is crucial to this process. If we trim a hedge at the same height for a long time, stems start to die out and even if we then did allow it to gain height options for management are far less. For example a hedge which is allowed to grow may not be able to be layed because the gaps are just too many and even if we were to coppice it to ground level we would have the extra expense of planting up the gaps at the same time. Best of all is to learn to ‘read’ a hedge and allow it to incrementally increase in height in a controlled manner before it becomes over stressed thus keeping all the stems healthy. If we then choose to rejuvenate the hedge either by laying or coppicing we have enough stems to form the basis for the next thick, dense hedge to grow.

At the other end of the scale neglect or lack of management allows a hedge to proceed through its natural life cycle in an uncontrolled manor and the inevitable end of this is an over tall, aging hedge once again with few options for management other than coppicing and planting up gaps. Whilst tall old hedges provide an excellent nectar source from flowers and perhaps ivy and can be an important source of fruit they will ultimetly become unstable and start to collapse. It may also be the case that they turn into a line of trees if trees species are able to colonize. Lines of trees can be important for bats and larger tree nesting birds but a balance has to be found between loosing the rich habitat of a dense hedge through neglect and allowing some hedges to develop into trees.

The life-cycle approach
We need to recognise the life cycle of a hedge. We must learn to allow a hedge to develop in a controlled manner through time never subjecting the hedge to stresses which over the long-term may ruin its condition. As land managers we must try and literally ‘buy’ time by extending the healthy life span of a hedge for as long as we can before we ultimately recognise that we have to intervene and rejuvenate the hedge from the base either through laying or coppicing.

It may be useful to imagine a scale from 1 to 10. Let us say that a hedge that scores 1 is an over trimmed, gappy and dying hedge whilst at the other extreme a hedge that has turned into a line of trees is a 10. In between are all the stages of growth and decline that a hedge may go through during its life. In the ideal world it would be perfect to maintain a hedge between a score of perhaps 3 and 8 that is, between being a healthy trimmed hedge and a healthy tall hedge. As managers we can then base our decisions on slowing down but not altogether halting the natural changes that the hedge wants to go through. By doing this on all hedges on a holding we achieve the ideal mosaic of different shapes and sizes that makes our countryside so special.

Download The hedgerow management cycle.pdf leaflet to read more about how to ‘read’ a hedgerow and make cost-effective decisions about management to ensure a heathly and long future for hedgerows.

Hedge trimming
There is no doubt that at some stage in the life of a hedge that it will be trimmed. This is done for many reasons including neatness, to thicken the hedge, to keep it under control, and, in situations where there is a health and safety risk for example alongside a road.
As has been said earlier constant long term trimming at the same height places a hedge under stress and can lead to a deterioration in condition but sympathetic trimming can indeed thicken a hedge by creating new points from which growth can ‘tiller’ out.

There are numerous types of tractor mounted hedge trimmer on the market the most common of which is the flail head. This uses hanging blades which rotate rapidly on a vertical plain and cut and mulch woody growth very successfully. They can do a great job but can also create an eyesore when larger woody growth is attempted.

There are knife blade cutters, either a reciprocating knife type or circular spinning blades rather like a flymo mower. These leave a very neat cut and are ideal for light growth with the disadvantage of not mulching up the cut brash.

Finally there is a circular saw blade machine. The first circular saws were developed after the war and were used to reshape overgrown hedges that had been neglected. Today very efficient circular saw blade attachments are available with up to 5 large blades on one head. They are ideal for ‘re-shaping’ a hedge after a period of non intervention and can be used as part of a long term ‘hands off’ cutting regime. Once again the disadvantage is the clearing up of brash but ironically the larger the fallen brash the easier it is to push up and burn with a front loader.

For more information, also see Natural England’s hedge cutting leaflet.