Farming and landscape features: Hedgerows

Hedgerows play an important role on farms; helping to prevent soil erosion and water run-off, providing shelter, controling livestock and protecting crops from the wind. They also provide an important habitat for wildlife and are often seen as defining character of the English landscape.

For further information on hedgerows please see the Hedgelink website - This site has been established by the Steering Group for the delivery of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for hedgerows to be the first source of information on hedgerows. It addition to details about the BAP, it contains pages on the importance of hedgerows and their wildlife, on research and surveys, and on legislation. It also has recent news and events and a forum for questions and discussion.

Key considerations regarding hedgerows on your farm include:


Ideally, you should trim hedgerows no more frequently than every other year, or preferably every third year for slow growing thorn hedges.

Trimming all hedges on the same farm in a single year should be avoided.

Instead, you should adopt a rotational cutting regime so no more than one third of the hedges are trimmed within the same 12 months. This is because some species only flower on second year growth, so annual cutting reduces the subsequent berry crop. There are, however, exceptions as hedgerows alongside roads and farm access tracks may need to be trimmed annually to avoid obstruction.

Young hedgerows (newly planted, coppiced or laid) also need a light annual trim for about 10 years to train them into a good shape and any gaps should be filled with local provenance stock of mixed species.

You should consider adopting set-aside headlands or grass buffer strips alongside hedges, especially those of particular wildlife importance (see details on  Environmental Stewardship Schemes below)

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Legal issues

Hedgerows are protected by the Hedgerows Regulations 1997.

Under the regulations, it is against the law to remove or destroy certain hedgerows without permission from the local planning authority.

Permission is required before removing hedges that are at least 20 metres in length, over 30 years old and contain certain species of plant.

The local planning authority will asses the importance of the hedgerow using criteria set out in the regulations.

Hedgerows in areas covered by a Historic Landscape Characterisation are often protected on the basis of historic importance and their wildlife value.

A summary of the law is contained in the Defra leaflet Hedgerow Regulations: Your Question Answered. More detailed guidance is contained in The Hedgerows Regulations 1997: A Guide to the Law and Good Practice. You can request a copy of these free of charge by emailing:

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Hedgerows Biodiversity Action Plan

Ancient and/or species-rich hedgerows were included as a Priority Habitat in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) published in 1995. The targets are to halt the loss of all hedgerows that are both ancient and species-rich by 2005; achieve favourable condition of 50% of these hedges by the same date; and maintain overall numbers of hedgerow trees throughout the country. Progress on the Hedgerows Action Plan is monitored by a Steering Group.

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Good practice

If you are receiving the Single Payment you need to keep hedgerows in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC).  Particular attention should be paid to GAEC 14 and GAEC 15, as laid out in the Cross Compliance Handbook for England.

Under these guidelines, you must avoid trimming hedgerows between 1 March and 31 July – the main nesting season for birds.

Exemptions apply if the hedgerow overhangs a public highway or public footpath, or if it obstructs the view of drivers.

It is best to leave trimming until the end of winter but where it is impossible to get on the field at this time, trimming can be brought forward to early winter.

Ground cover at the hedge base should be retained over winter for ground-nesting birds.

It should also be noted that over-management – or trimming a hedge too severely – can have a detrimental effect on conservation. In general, taller, bushier hedgerows provide more wildlife potential than smaller, thinner hedges.

If conditions are such that you need to trim hedges when berries are still present, only the hedge sides should be trimmed as this will leave some fruit.

You should pay particular attention to the need to avoid spray and fertiliser drift into hedges, hedge verges and hedge bottoms.

Livestock should be fenced away from hedgerows, and a strip of uncultivated or ungrazed land maintained between the hedge and the adjacent crop.

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Environmental Stewardship schemes include a number of hedgerow management options.

Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) options may be applied to hedges managed by regular trimming or on a traditional hedge-laying or coppicing cycle. However, you are not permitted to use more than one ELS hedgerow management option on the same length of hedge.

For further details on managing hedgerows to meet ELS requirements options see Hedgerow Management (EB1 and EB2) and Enhanced Hedgerow Management (EB3) in the ELS Handbook.

Organic Entry Level Stewardship - organic farmers should refer to the Organic Entry Level Stewardship Handbook.

Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) options include payments for Maintenance of Hedgerows of Very High Environmental Value (HB 12). This option maintains hedgerows that support target species of farmland birds, insects or mammals, or which are of local or historic value.

The following information is available on the Natural England website:

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Hedgerow Survey Handbook

This Handbook sets out a standard way of recording hedgerows. Its focus is on the wildlife, or biodiversity, of hedgerows. It also recognises the importance of hedgerows for farming, and their contribution to the beauty of our countryside historically and culturally.  The survey method in this handbook will give accurate consistent information about the state of our hedgerows at a local level, what the main influences on their condition are, and what we need to do to restore them.

We hope that the handbook will raise awareness and interest among land managers and local communities about the considerable importance of hedgerows for wildlife, and help to identify the most pressing challenges and the best ways to address them.

This handbook was prepared on behalf of the Steering Group for the UK Biodiversity Action Plan for Hedgerows.


See also

Further information

Page last modified: 22 April 2010
Page published: 1 July 2006