Blackbird eating red berries in hedge

Wildlife Law: The Hedgerows Regulations 1997

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The Hedgerows regulation was introduced in 1997 and protects important countryside hedges from destruction or damage. The hedgerows covered by these regulations are not domestic hedgerows (not hedges in your garden), but covers hedgerows on or next to common land, SSSIs, agricultural land, nature reserves and forestry land.

What is a hedgerow and why are they important?

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For the purposes of the hedgerows regulation, a countryside hedgerow is ‘a boundary line of bushes which can include trees’. Hedgerows are often filled with dense, prickly branches with lasting foliage, which offer fantastic protection from predators and the perfect habitat for a lot of native wildlife. Hedgerows can be made up of a wide range of bush and tree species, and the size of the hedge and whether trees make up a large percentage of the hedgerow can determine what kind of species will utilise the hedge and bank. Hedges may support up to 80% of our woodland birds, many of whom are in decline.

Urban hedgerow

Hedgerows provide habitat for many different species, and research has shown that pollinator abundance can be higher in areas with hedgerows, among other woody features.
Dead wood and decomposing leaves that build up within hedgerows also help to attract insect life, which is invaluable for our ecosystem with so many insects declining. The bases of hedges are the perfect place to grow nectar-rich woodland flowers like foxgloves, bluebells, and anemones: perfect for these same pollinators.
Many birds also use hedgerows for much-needed shelter, nesting opportunities and eat the berries grown in hedgerows for food. Tits and finches can be seen flitting along the branches, hunting tiny insects which are essential nestling food. Wrens will find low down, sheltered spots to make their tiny, mossy cave-like nests. Blackbirds and thrushes can be found eating berries throughout the autumn and winter.

Public Health

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The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said that avian influenza is primarily a disease of birds and the risk to the general public’s health is very low. The regional UKHSA Health Protection Teams are working closely with DEFRA to monitor the situation and will be providing health advice to persons at the infected premises as a precaution. The Food Standards Agency has said that based on the current scientific evidence, avian influenza poses an extremely low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

A countryside hedgerow is protected if it is located within or next to agricultural land, land used for forestry, common land, village greens, SSSIs or nature reserves and:

  • It is more than 20m long with gaps of 20m or less in length
  • Less than 20m long, but meets another hedge at each end
  • Less than 20m long, but meets another hedge at each end
Sparrows on hedge
House sparrows

Hedgerows within private gardens are not included within the hedgerows regulations. The hedgerow is protected if it is at least 30 years old and falls under one of the below criteria:

  • Contains an archaeological feature or is next to an archaeological site
  • Contains protected species from the wildlife and countryside act, or has species which are listed as endangered, vulnerable, or rare in British Red Data books
  • Marks all/part of a parish boundary that was in existence prior to 1850
  • Marks the boundary of an estate that existed all/in part before 1600
  • Includes woody species specified within the hedgerows regulations under schedule 1
  • Is part of a field system that has a feature that existed prior to 1845

Protection means that hedgerows cannot be removed or damaged if they fall within this criterion. To remove a hedgerow less than 30 years old, you must apply to the local planning authority. For more in depth information, visit the government website.

Our top tips for keeping hedgerows in shape!

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Whilst the hedgerows regulation doesn’t govern hedgerows in gardens, we have some great advice on how to care for the hedges in your gardens.

  • Hedges and shrubs should not be cut during nesting season to avoid damage or disturbance to nesting birds, or while there are berries and other fruits available for food.  To see more about not disturbing nesting birds click here
  • A regular trim once per year, or every other year (depending on the species growing), will help to encourage the thick, dense growth which produce more food and offer greater protection from predators and weather.
  • Your garden to provide more shelter for birds. Try planting wild cherry, field maple, dog rose and blackthorn to give a dense hedge with plenty of natural food sources. For more ideas, click here hedgelink.org.uk

Breaching regulations?

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If you see someone that you believe is breaching the hedgerows regulation by interfering with countryside hedgerows, you can contact your local police force if it is during the nesting season. Outside of the nesting season, you can call the Rural Payments Agency on 03000 200 301 if the hedgerow is in a common agricultural policy scheme (check that here https://magic.defra.gov.uk/), if the hedgerow isn’t in a CAP scheme then contact your local planning authority.

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Alison, J., Botham, M., Maskell, L. C., Garbutt, A., Seaton, F. M., Skates, J., Smart, S. M., Thomas, A. R. C., Tordoff, G., Williams, B. L., Wood, C. M., Emmett, B. A. (2022). Woodland, cropland and hedgerows promote pollinator abundance in intensive grassland landscapes, with saturating benefits of flower cover. Journal of Applied Ecology. 59: 342– 354. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.14058

Dunn, J.C., Gruar, D., Stoate, C., Szczur, J., Peach, W.J. (2016) Can hedgerow management mitigate the impacts of predation on songbird nest survival? Journal of Environmental Management. 184(3): 535-544.

Hinsley, S.A., Bellamy, P.E. (2000) The influence of hedge structure, management and landscape context on the value of hedgerows to birds: A review. Journal of Environmental Management. 60(1): 33-49.

Natural England & Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. (2019). Countryside hedgerows: protection and management. GOV.UK: Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/countryside-hedgerows-regulation-and-management.

Staley, J.T., Amy, S.R., Adams, N.P., Chapman, R.E., Peyton, J.M., Pywell, R.F. (2015) Re-structuring hedges: Rejuvenation management can improve the long-term quality of hedgerow habitats for wildlife in the UK. Biological Conservation. 186:187-196.

Van der Sluijs, J.P. (2020) Insect decline, an emerging global environmental risk. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 46: 39-42.

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