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The future of hedgerow protections in England: consultation response

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Future Farming and Countryside Programme
Credit: Peter O'Connor

Hedgerows are a vital part of our countryside. They benefit our wildlife, the environment and our landscapes.  

Hedgerows play an important role in farming. They slow soil erosion and support an integrated pest management approach.   

We know that our farmers and land managers value hedgerows. In England, there are now over 90,000 kilometres of hedgerows with one or both sides managed under 16,000 Countryside Stewardship and SFI agreements. Through Countryside Stewardship capital grants, over 13,000 kilometres of hedgerows have been created or restored. 

In June last year, we launched a consultation on how hedgerows should be protected in England. We blogged about it at the time. 

Today, we published the summary of the responses and the government's response on GOV.UK. This includes proposed exemptions to the requirements. 

In this post, we'll share the outcomes of the consultation and our next steps.  


As mentioned, the consultation launched in June. By the time the consultation closed in September, almost 9,000 people shared their views. This substantial response again highlights how much hedgerows are valued by all, including farmers and land managers. 

We would like to thank all of those who took the time to respond.

There was overwhelming agreement that hedgerows are valuable assets for wildlife and the environment.  

Responses to the consultation clearly supported protections. In total, 96% of responses agreed with the proposal to maintain a buffer strip.

98% agreed with the proposal to maintain a cutting ban period. Farmers were firmly supportive, with 82% agreeing to a buffer strip and 85% to a cutting ban period. 

We also appreciate views on extending protections outside of agricultural land in the future.  

Regulations and protections

There was consensus that hedges should be protected in law. This is what the government seeks to do through new regulations. 

We trust farmers and land managers to look after hedgerows and the proposed regulations will provide the reassurance that everyone follows the same management approach.  

Alongside the continuation of our hedgerow offers in our environmental land management schemes, the new regulations reinforce our commitment to protect hedgerows and support those who look after them.  

The proposed regulations will replicate the approach already familiar to most farmers from the previous cross compliance rules.  

As before, they will require a 2-metre buffer strip measured from the centre of the hedge, where no cultivation or application of pesticides or fertilisers must happen.

This is to prevent harm to the structure and health of the hedge. The new regulations will also follow the cross compliance approach and ban the cutting of hedges between 1 March and 31 August, protecting nesting birds during that period.  

While the rules themselves will be familiar to farmers, the approach to enforcement of the proposed new regulation will be different, with a focus on being fair and proportionate.  

We have learned lessons from previous approaches and believe an advice-led approach will result in the best outcomes. We want to hear your views on the enforcement approach.

We will talk to farmers and environmental organisations about this, as well as consulting formally as required in the legislation. 

We are working hard to bring in the new regulation as soon as parliamentary time allows. We'll provide more information in due course.

Sharing and comments

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  1. Comment by Sheila Read posted on

    Thank you for this. As a farmer with 10-12 ft high and 6ft wide hedges full of berries abd giving wonderful shelter for birds, bats, dormice etc.I still have concerns about your policy.
    a) The majority of hedges round here are still cut right down to about a metre high and they are thin. This because it's easier to do so using cheaper machinery that can't do a high cut, but it doesn't give wildlife enough height and breadth in which to feel safe, so the number of birds in them is minimal. Nor does it give fruiting hedge shrubs enough growth to produce a reasonable food source.
    b) I think the cutting period should start in mid August rather than at the end. Birds have finished nesting by the middle of the month and if cut early the hedging has a chance to put on plenty of growth before the autumn, therefore improving winter shelter. This year many were cut right down in early Jan because it was dry, but this ruins shelter at the coldest time of year and the remaining berries are destroyed so it's more difficult for wildlife to survive the worst of the winter.
    It's a difficult decision because berries are already forming in August and the end of Feb is usually extremely wet so margins get damaged even with soft tyres.
    As in C.S. if we went for light cuts in June or early July only that would probably be the best solution.

    • Replies to Sheila Read>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hello Sheila,

      Thanks for your comments. The consultation asked about future hedgerow policy, we will be considering those and evidence of harms to hedgerows as we continue to assess best approaches.

      The cutting ban period ends on the 31 August, as evidence shows many species continue to nest up to this date. The British Trust for Ornithology will publish a research report on nesting bird periods in England shortly.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  2. Comment by Mike Furness posted on

    Will farmers still need a derogation to cut hedges in August prior to sowing Oil Seed Rape or grass seeds ?

    • Replies to Mike Furness>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Mike,

      Yes there will still be an exemption to allow cutting in August for the sowing of oilseed rape and temporary grassland provided the RPA is notified. The notification process will be streamlined, and further details will be issued in advance.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  3. Comment by Mike Copley posted on

    I am a farmer in the east Midlands and agree that hedges should be looked after.
    They are of massive importance to wildlife and the environment.
    I believe there should be a maximum field size of 40 acres, there are far to many fields in this country that are well over 100 acres in size.
    How many more hedgerows and hedgerow tree's could we have if a maximum field size was adopted?

    • Replies to Mike Copley>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the comment. There are no intentions to introduce a mandatory maximum field size but we are encouraging farmers to take up hedgerow creation offers in our environmental land management schemes.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  4. Comment by Rodney Newman Swarbrick posted on

    The high % of farmers supporting hedgerow protection and a cutting close season is gratifying, showing farmers do care. As well as grants to plant new/ restore existing by "pricking -up" /infilling what is lacking is an army of skilled volunteer (?) hedge layers nationwide whom farmers/landowners can afford to deploy to ensure hedges endure by rotational/periodic laying.

    A brave government intent on maximising the value of hedges would require other landowners/"public" estates etc., to be bound by legislation similar to that applying to agricultural land.

    • Replies to Rodney Newman Swarbrick>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Rodney,

      Thanks for visiting and for sharing your views. There are a number of volunteer groups across the country planting and maintaining hedgerows - demonstrating just how much people care about them and realise their value.

      The consultation asked for comments on the future ambition for hedgerow policy, and we received responses on broadening protections beyond agricultural land. We are working with stakeholders and other government departments to understand how to support the creation and maintenance of hedgerows in non-agricultural contexts, to maximise the benefits they provide.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  5. Comment by Grace posted on

    Sadly a farm in my village which is also a conservation area has completely removed a hawthorn hedge in a field which borders with an agricultural hanger. It has been replaced with a metal fence. Is this permitted? It seems extreme to remove a large length of hawthorn. Are there justifiable reasons to remove hedges ?

    Kind regards


  6. Comment by S.Byass posted on

    A hedge trimmed annually remains tight and allows small birds to nest in safety from predators Such a hedge doesn't have to be small, indeed mine are 7 or 8 ft tall.As I walked down the side of one my hedges this morning small birds were already busy inside the hedge. Infrequent cutting leads to open and straggly hedges,no use to small birds only pigeons which we love!
    Berries are borne on the old wood and annual trimming does not touch them.I even saw a very few hawthorn berries still on my walk today. March 16th
    Also I think that a light trimming in August would do no harm.


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