Hedgerow in wintern England and Wales the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 are intended to protect important countryside hedges from destruction or damage. The legislation is very complicated and has been the subject of much criticism - not least from the poor souls who have to try to administer it. The regulations are presently under government review and are intended to be revised (this has been awaited since 1997 so we'll believe it when we see it).

Hedgerows in the countryside, and their conservation, is a quite different subject from the management and regulation of hedges around houses, and, more specifically, between neighbours. For this reason, the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 specifically exclude any hedgerow which is within, or borders, a domestic garden. For these hedges other legislation exists. See here for a separate article on high hedgesPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet and more information on 'problem' domestic hedges.

See the text of the Hedgerows Regulations here - although it might not make much sense unless you read this page too.

There is much confusion about 'when is it legal to trim hedges?'. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet makes it an offence to disturb a birds nest which is in use, which is normally taken to mean under construction, or with eggs, chicks or birds using it regularly - even if they are not actually in it at the time. There are no set timescales for this in law, and obviously this varies from region to region. Here on the Isle of Wight I usually advise people not to work from 1 March- 31 July, although plenty of people do so. The chances of a prosecution are pretty slim but they have occurred. If work has to be done to trees or bushes in the nesting season it is still possible to do it so long as you inspect the trees beforehand and ensure there are no birds nests - obviously if you find one you have to wait until it is no longer in use. Although this might delay any work it certainly will not stop it as the work can proceed once the nests have been finished with.

In the meantime this page should give some guide to the present law. Take a deep breath because it is not a simple explanation - there isn't one.

Scope of the Regulations

What is a hedgerow?
A hedgerow is 'a row of bushes forming a hedge, with the trees growing in it'. Where a former hedgerow has grown up to form trees, it is not covered by the regulations. The exact difference between a line of trees and a hedgerow is not defined in law. This can be tricky, and it is, when it comes down to it, a matter of opinion when a hedge becomes a line of trees. It is not a simple case of height or width, or species or even management - probably all these factors need to be considered. As a guide, if something was once a hedge, in my view it remains a hedge until it very obviously is not one. However, if trees remain from a larger woodland, for example, in a thin line, these might not immediately be a hedge for some time even if they cover the same land area as a hedge might. Other people might use different criteria to this. See, for example, this article by Alina CongrevePages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet in this section.

Other field boundaries such as banks and stone walls are not covered unless they support a hedgerow on top, as is often the case in the West Country and parts of Wales. Even in this case it is only the hedgerow itself that is protected, and not the feature underneath.

Which hedgerows are covered by the regulations?
Hedgerows on or adjacent to the following:A hedgerow is 'a row of bushes forming a hedge, with the trees growing in it'.

Common landPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet
• Village greens.
SSSIsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet (which include all terrestrial SACsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, NNRsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, and SPAsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet).
Local Nature ReservesPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet
• Land used for agriculture.
• Land used for forestry.
• Land used for the breeding or keeping of horses, ponies or donkeys.

But not hedgerows (including any in the above list) which are 'within or marking the boundary of the curtilage of a dwelling-house'. This means that if a hedge marks the edge of a garden which is attached to a house, the hedge is not covered by the regulations.

What length of hedgerow is covered?
To qualify for the regulations a hedgerow must be at least 20m in length or connected at both ends to another hedgerow of any length. Any stretch within such a hedgerow also counts. Gaps of up to 20m are counted as a part of the hedgerow.

What counts as removal?
To uproot or otherwise destroy a hedgerow counts as removal. So if you dig a trench alongside a hedge and kill off the roots, this is removal even if you don't touch the hedge itself. But if you severely prune or coppice back a hedgerow, even down to the roots; if the hedgerow is capable of growing back it may not count as removal.

Are there any exemptions?
Of course. Aren't there always? Read on:

HedgelayingWorks to hedgerows are exempt:

• To make a new opening in substitution for an existing one that gives access to land. For example, a gate. However, the old one must be filled in within 8 months.
• To obtain temporary access to land in an emergency. This means the sort of emergency you might dial 999 for- not the sort of emergency where you've suddenly bought too big a combine for your field.
• To obtain access to land where other means are not available or are only available at disproportionate cost.
• For national defence purposes.
• Where planning permission has been granted but not in most cases where the development is under permitted development rights.
• To carry out work under certain Acts of Parliament for flood defence or land drainage purposes.
• By an authorised inspector to prevent the spread of a plant disease.
• By the Highway Agency.
• To protect or prevent danger to electric lines and plant.
• For the proper management of the hedgerow. This means real management, such as coppicing. But if the hedgerow is deliberately 'overmanaged' this might qualify as removal.

What happens when a landowner wants to remove a hedgerow?
Any landowner who wishes to remove a hedgerow, if it is not exempt as above must serve a Hedgerow Removal Notice in writing on their local planning authority. The authority then has 42 days (which period can be extended if the applicant agrees) to determine whether or not the hedge is considered 'important' under the regulations, and if so, whether or not to issue a Hedgerow Retention Notice. The local authority does not have to issue a Retention Notice, even if the hedgerow counts as important. If they do not issue a notice for an important hedge this is often on condition that certain things are done, e.g. reinstatement or replanting to a certain standard, or creation of an equivalent boundary elsewhere.

Considering the Hedgerow Removal Notice. The local authority must consult the local parish or community council and consider their views, but it does not have to consult anyone else. All applications are kept on a public register and should be available for study at your local authority. There is no requirement to publicise the order or put up signs, or anything like that. The local authority may (but does not have to, for example if the information is already available) then make a site survey. This must be done by a suitably qualified individual. From this the authority will determine whether or not the hedge is 'important'. In this context the word 'important' has special meaning.

What is an 'important' hedgerow?
A good question. The definition in the official literature runs to 6 closely-printed A4 pages. So this is a brief overview; if it's important to you then check the detail because it's not all here. Oddly, most of these criteria refer to 'the relevant date' which is 27 March 1997. If records giving evidence to support inclusion in these criteria cannot be shown to have existed on that date, they may not qualify. In any case the hedgerow must be more than 30 years old. The landowner should provide documentation to prove that it is not, if he thinks so. Apart from this, to be deemed 'important' a hedgerow must meet one or more of the following criteria:

• The hedgerow marks the boundary of a historic parish or township existing before 1850.
• The hedgerow contains or is within an archaeological feature which is on the Sites and Monuments Record, or a pre-1600 manor or estate.
• The hedgerow is a part of or associated with a field system predating the Inclosure Acts.
• The hedgerow contains species in part I of Schedule 1Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet; Schedule 5Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet; or Schedule 8Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981Pages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet; or various other defined species including certain Red Data Book species.
• The hedgerow is adjacent to a public right of wayPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet (not counting an adopted highway) and at least 4 woody species as defined in Schedule 3 of the regulations plus at least two Associated Features.
• The hedgerow includes one or more of the following:

- At least 7 woody species;
- At least 6 woody species plus at least three Associated Features (see below);
- At least 6 woody species including a black poplar; large-leaved lime, small-leaved lime or wild service tree;
- At least 5 woody species and at least 4 Associated Features.
Note that: Where a hedgerow is situated wholly or partly in the county (as constituted on the first of April 1997) of the City of Kingston Upon Hull, Cumbria, Darlington, Durham, East Riding of Yorkshire, Hartlepool, Lancashire, Middlesbrough, North East Lincolnshire, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees, Tyne and Wear, West Yorkshire or York the number of woody species mention is to be treated as reduced by one"

Associated Features are as follows:

• A bank or wall for at least half the length.
• A ditch for at least half the length.
• Gaps over no more than 10% of the length.
• At least one standard tree per 50m.
• At least 3 ground flora woodland species as defined in Schedule 2 of the Regulations within 1m of the hedgerow.
• Connections scoring 4 or more points, where connection a hedgerow counts as one, a broad-leaved woodland or pond counts as two*.
• A parallel hedge within 15m*.

*These features do not count if a public right of way is being included in the criterion.

National Hedgelaying SocietyUse these links to find out more about Hedgelaying and Hedge Management.
National Hedgelaying Association
See especially this excellent essay on the origin, management and regional variations of hedges by Paul Blissett.
If you are seriously interested in hedgerow planting and management for conservation you need the BTCV Hedgerows Practical handbook, which, frustratingly, is no longer a printed publication but in a move worthy of Adobe, you can pay for a chance to view it online. If you can find an old printed copy keep it under lock and key, they are rare.
For a critical overview of the Regulations in the year 2000 see the article Hedgerow Protection in England and WalesPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet by Alina Congreve.
A further article by the same author is How to survey a hedge according to the 1997 RegulationsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet.

Did that help? We thought not. It is a nightmare to administer and use, and we really hope it changes soon. In the meantime, you are recommended to obtain The Hedgerows Regulations 1997, a guide to the law and good practice, published by the Department of the Environment in 1997. Even that doesn't have everything in it, but it is a good start. You can download it in bits from this Government page.

There's also the Government pages on hedgerows here.