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Protecting hedgerows: share your views

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: environmental land management schemes, Payments to support hedgerows

Hedgerow with buffer strip

Hedgerows store carbon, support crop pollinators, create habitats for animals, slow water flow and create shade and fodder for animals. Those are just a few of their benefits. 

They are a vital feature of the English countryside. 

We want to protect the hedges we have, invest in their maintenance and support further planting. 

We also want to make sure that hedgerow regulations work for wildlife, the environment and farmers.

In the Environmental Improvement Plan, we set out our commitment to support farmers to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows by 2037 and 45,000 miles of hedgerows by 2050. 

Today we launched a consultation on hedgerow protections in England and we want your views. 


We want to preserve and protect hedgerows through effective, proportionate regulation while working in partnership with industry to deliver our environmental targets.

The consultation focuses on domestic regulations for hedgerow protections, as this is an area where we don’t yet have domestic legislation. 

In addition to the protections found under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, legislation exists around the removal of hedgerows in The Hedgerows Regulations 1997. It does not, however, cover their management.

At the moment, farmers must not remove important hedgerows. They must maintain a buffer strip along their hedgerows and must not cut or trim hedgerows during bird nesting and rearing season — for the good of the hedgerow and the wildlife it supports. 

The consultation

The consultation focuses on maintaining and improving existing protections as well as our enforcement approach.

The consultation seeks feedback on our proposal to amend existing law to include the following management measures:

  • Having a ‘buffer strip’ 2 metres from the centre of a hedgerow to protect its structure
  • Not cutting hedgerows during bird nesting season to protect important bird species

We want to know where you think we could focus our ambitions for future hedgerow protections.

Finally, we’d like your opinion on a proposal to introduce civil sanctions for the management of hedgerows.

We want everyone who cares about hedgerows to respond: from farmers to stakeholder organisations to members of the public.

The consultation opened today. It will be open for 12 weeks. It will close Wednesday 20 September 2023 at 23:59pm.

This consultation is designed to help us shape what our requirements should be and we'll blog with updates.

Read the consultation document and share your views

Hedgerows and environmental land management 

We are making sure that our environmental land management schemes recognise the importance of hedgerows. 

Through Countryside Stewardship, we already pay for the management of hedgerows by rotational cutting, leaving some hedgerows uncut and restorative pruning of fruit trees.  

There are currently over 49,000 miles of hedgerows with one, or both sides managed under Countryside or Environmental Stewardship options. 8,450 miles of hedgerows have either been created or restored through Countryside Stewardship capital grants. 

This year, we will introduce new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) actions for hedgerows. 

Actions include assessing and recording the condition of hedgerows, maintaining existing hedgerow trees and establishing new ones.

The actions aim to support farmers in managing hedgerows to provide year-round food, shelter and breeding cover for wildlife. 

The guidance includes what land is eligible for each action and what you need to do to get paid. 

In addition to our environmental land management schemes, innovative finance schemes for hedges are progressing with funding from Defra.

For example, through the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund, we funded the Allerton Research and Educational Trust to create a carbon calculation tool for hedges, as a basis for a new carbon code for hedgerows. This will support hedgerow planting and maintenance. 

We are also partnering with the British Standards Institution to establish a common framework to govern nature market standards like the carbon calculation tool. Doing so will help us to make sure that new codes like this one deliver for nature and implement the principles underpinning the Nature Markets Framework. 

Sharing and comments

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  1. Comment by Andrew Burtonwood posted on

    I think the legislation should be amended to require a 3m buffer on both sides, with each side not being cut more than once every 3 years. The top could be cut annually, in winter, to allow more manageable maintenance.

    Extra value should be given to traditionally laid hedges which are actively managed.

    • Replies to Andrew Burtonwood>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Andrew,

      Thank you for sharing your suggestions. Do follow the link to the consultation and submit your views there so they're officially recorded.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

    • Replies to Andrew Burtonwood>

      Comment by James Dorse posted on

      Quite agree as long as that applies to domestic hedges in garden as well

      • Replies to James Dorse>

        Comment by Nigel Eastment posted on

        I assume you are being mischievous, as a 3 meter margin around a domestic hedge is clearly impractical - BUT I do agree something similar needs to be done urgently to encourage domestic hedges, where traditional mixed planted hedges are a vital resource for sparrows, blackbirds, other garden species and provide highways for hedgehogs. .
        In towns and villages across the country hedges are being replaced with panel fencing, a sorry reflection of the priorities of the householders.
        The RHS had an excellent article in 'The Garden', March 2021, which could be widely circulated in any campaign. Householders need to be informed of the benefits to wildlife, in carbon fixing and beneficial effects on noise and pollution.

  2. Comment by Lindsay McLane posted on

    The picture you show has a bare gap in the hedge of about half a meter between ground level and the foliage in the hedge. This area is popular for some species of birds when nesting, To maximise the benefit to wildlife, this gap should be full of dense foliage either and/or from low branches in the hedge or vegetation growing from the ground. The guidance on creating a buffer strip should include advice to encourage development of this area.

  3. Comment by Andrew saville posted on

    Hi as a hedgecutting contractor I feel any thing left more then two years is no good it just smashes hedges up leaving no where for little birds to nest ! Every year trimming is much better less stress on machines operator s and hedges ! Also we we need aug back to get round harvest fields the only thing nesting is odd pigeon and middle of march would be good cut off point as nothing nests till the hedge greens up ! Also more focus on hedge laying would be good as it keeps skill s alive and hedges in good condition! All road side need to be cut every year for safety!

    • Replies to Andrew saville>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hello Andrew,

      Do follow the link to the consultation and submit your views there so they're officially recorded.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  4. Comment by Michael Tomlinson posted on

    Having spent the last 40+ years trimming hedges the best hedges for wildlife are annual tight cut hedges. Birds nest better in a tight hedge. The trimming dates for me are fine but don’t want to be any shorter. In my opinion I would cut hedges annually but for every 50 acres 100 Mtr of hedge should be left for wildlife for 10 years and not touched. When I cut 3yr growth the hedges they end up stools nothing for birds to nest in,brambles and hedge have pulled fencing into the hedge as well which impossible to then cut the hedge without damaging machine and fencing. If someone wants to discuss this with someone who spend 40 yrs doing 1500 hrs a year cutting hedges the ring me. Regards
    Mike Tomlinson

    • Replies to Michael Tomlinson>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks very much for sharing your views. It would be great if you could follow the link to the consultation and submit your views there so they're officially recorded.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  5. Comment by Veronica-Mae Soar posted on

    Totally agree about traditionally laid hedges - done well they remove the need for fencing.
    Also - close watch on developers, who are dreadful at destroying hedges - especially in the nesting season (which has expanded with climate change) they just say " we did not see any nests" and think that makes it ok. Birds HIDE their nests.
    And, stop developers from netting hedges, so that they can destroy them later and be "legal"

    • Replies to Veronica-Mae Soar>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Veronica,

      Thanks for your comment. All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, with strong penalties for committing offences against against them (and other wildlife).

      Many species of plants and animals in England and often their supporting features and habitats are protected. What you can and cannot do by law varies from species to species.

      Natural England has guidance on this matter:

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  6. Comment by David Ford posted on

    Hedges need cutting annually to stop excessive growth which is then harder to cut back neatly.
    No birds are nesting in August so it would make sence to bring back the start date to 1st August which would then give hedge cutting contractors another 4 weeks to cut hedges before the Autumn.
    Were roadside hedges are not cut it is making country roads dangerous because of the lack of visibility so councils and farmers should be asked to cut them every year for safety reasons.

  7. Comment by Greg Nicholson posted on

    3 metre buffer is fine if it’s around a 20 ha field, but some traditional farms still have 20 ha split into 12-15 fields which provide approx 3 km of extra hedges within their 20 ha block, and 3 m buffer seems excessive in a 1.3 ha field.

  8. Comment by Edward goadby posted on

    Speaking as a farmer and sole person who maintains them hedges.
    I cut many types of hedges and have neighbours who are under different schemes to myself, I see the huge impact in what different management techniques contribute.
    Firstly, cutting a hedge every 3 years is not sustainable or even cutting one side of the hedge, it does a lot of damage to the growth of the hedge and impacts it for further years. The hedge becomes brittle and bare and can take years for some hedges to recover so your defeating the point of giving nesting birds a chance.
    Meaning food supplies are half for following years.
    Maintaining a hedge each year like I do means I only cut new growth and the hedge soon regrows much quicker. The hedge is then full of bugs and insects and is encourage to repopulate and produce food ie berry’s.For example if I cut my lawn once every 3 years I cause more damage the grass and it becomes bare and dead in the bottom and takes the same time to recover. Where if I cut and maintain it when it needs to be it will always be green and have life.

  9. Comment by Richard Chester posted on

    Hedgerows managed annually provide a a much safer nesting environment than hedgerows left for two or more years which allow predators easier access to nests. Arable land and roadside hedges should be allowed to be maintained from the 15th August while grassland and everything else left the same timeframe as it is now.Hedgerows are a crucially significant part of the British countryside when managed correctly provide a safe haven for British nature.

    • Replies to Richard Chester>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for taking the time to share your suggestions. If you could follow the link to the consultation and submit your views through the survey, we'd really appreciate it.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  10. Comment by Michael staines posted on

    Cutting hedges once a yr produces better growth, thicker denser hedges. More leaves, flowers and fruit. Increaseing the habit for all the food chain. Hedges left for years are open and fall into an uninhabitable void. Currently cutting hedges every 1-3 yrs works fine. Planting more hedges must be encouraged. More should be done on stopping house building on prime agricultural land

  11. Comment by Michael Staines posted on

    Domestic hedges should be encouraged to follow the same cutting rules during bird nesting times.A grant for people to plant hedges as boundaries instead of wooden fences in there garden. 1000s of miles of new habitat could be made. The sale of plastic grass should be banned.

  12. Comment by Matt posted on

    Hedgerows should and will be cut on a yearly basis. This way it keeps the hedges in shape and creates better habitat for wildlife as the hedges are thicker. Cutting hedges on a 2-3 year basis smashes the hedges to pieces and leaves them open to the elements and not a good place for wildlife to be, you will more likely find wildlife in a hedge that is cut yearly as it’s more protected.

  13. Comment by David Railton posted on

    Hi I think the hedge cutting season should be extended to the end of February and start at the beginning of August.This will give us a bigger window to get job done on some wet farms.

  14. Comment by Nicola Blyth posted on

    It's not just the frequency of hedge cutting, it is also the extent.
    Farmers around us are flailing them back to bare stumps, as low as they possibly can every year.
    And it's not just about nesting birds - cutting hedges in August - or even September - means there are no berries left for all the birds which migrate here in Autumn.


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