Environmental management – guidance

Countryside hedgerows: regulation and management

If you own or manage a countryside hedgerow (or hedgerow trees), understand the rules and responsibilities involved if you want to remove or work on them.

The content on this page is in beta and may be updated frequently.

Overview

The Hedgerows Regulations 1997 protect most countryside hedgerows from being removed (including being uprooted or otherwise destroyed). There are rules you have to follow to avoid breaking the law.

This guide is a summary on how to manage a countryside hedgerow (or hedgerow trees). You need to consult the Hedgerows Regulations 1997, particularly around the full criteria for what constitutes an ‘important’ hedge, to make sure you fully comply with the rules.

Apply to remove a countryside hedgerow

The local planning authority (LPA) administers the regulations. If you want to remove a hedgerow (or part of a hedgerow) you will need to apply to your LPA in writing before you do so. You should discuss your plans with your LPA first.

The LPA is either:

  • the local authority
  • the National Park Authority for land within a national park boundary
  • the Broads Authority in the Norfolk Broads
  • the Council of the Isles of Scilly, for land on the Isles of Scilly

Role of the LPA

The LPA has 42 days to respond to your written notice to remove a hedgerow. They can issue:

  • a hedgerow retention notice - if the hedge is ‘important’ and must be kept
  • a written notice giving permission to remove the hedgerow in the way proposed

However, if you don’t hear back from the LPA within 42 days, you can proceed with the removal as proposed.

If you have received written permission from the LPA, you have up to 2 years from the date the written notice was issued to remove the hedge.

The LPA has the power to impose penalties if there is a breach of the Hedgerow Regulations.

You can appeal to the Secretary of State in writing within 28 days of the LPA decision.

Hedgerows covered by regulations

A countryside hedgerow which is:

  • more than 20 metres long (or any part of such a length)
  • less than 20 metres long, but meets another hedge at each end
  • located on or next to:

    • land used for agriculture or forestry
    • land used for keeping horses, ponies or donkeys
    • common land
    • a village green
    • a site of special scientific interest
    • a local nature reserve
    • a public right of way

Criteria for ‘important’ hedgerows

Your LPA will decide if your hedgerow is important. An important hedgerow must be at least 30 years old and meet one of the following criteria:

  • marks a pre-1850 parish/township boundary, or part of it
  • incorporates a Scheduled Monument or an archaeological feature recorded ‘at the relevant date’ in a Sites and Monuments Record:

    • situated wholly or partly within an archaeological site as above or is on land adjacent to and associated with such a site and is associated with any monument or feature on that site
  • marks the boundary of a pre-1600 estate or manor or is visibly related to any building or other feature of such an estate or manor:

    • is an integral part of a field system pre-dating the Inclosure Acts
    • is part of or visibly related to any building or other feature associated with such a system

• contains protected species listed in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 or Joint Nature Conservation Committee publications

Includes:

  • 7 woody species from the Schedule 3 woody species list
  • 6 woody species and at least 3 associated features
  • 6 woody species, including a black poplar, large leaved lime or wild service tree
  • 5 woody species and at least 4 associated features
  • 4 woody species and 2 associated features and runs alongside a public right of way

Associated features are:

  • a bank or wall supporting the hedge along at least half its length
  • a ditch along at least half its length
  • gaps of less than 10%
  • at least one standard tree where the hedge is 50 metres or less
  • connections with other hedges, ponds or woodland
  • a parallel hedge within 15 metres
  • at least 2 standard trees where the hedgerow length is over 50 but not more than 100 metres

Where the hedge exceeds 100 metres the number of standard trees averages at least one per 50 metres

  • at least 3 species from the Schedule 2 woodland plant list within one metre of the outermost edge of the hedge

The number of woody species is reduced by one in northern counties. See Schedule 1: additional criteria for determining important hedgerows for a list of these counties.

You can find the detailed criteria in Part II of Schedule I to the Regulations.

Contact the Defra farmland conservation mailbox: farmland.conservation@defra.gsi.gov.uk for more information on Hedgerow Regulations or refer to: Hedgerows Regulations 1997 - a guide to the law and good practice.

When you don’t need to apply to remove a hedgerow

You don’t need to tell the LPA that you are removing a hedgerow if:

  • it’s less than 20 metres long (but not if it is part of a hedge which is 20 metres or more long and not if it is less than 20 metres long but meets another hedge at each end)
  • it’s in or borders a domestic dwelling
  • you are making an new opening to replace existing access to the land (but the existing access must be filled by planting a hedge within 8 months of making the new opening)
  • you are correctly managing the hedgerow by laying or coppicing
  • there is no other way of obtaining access to the land or the cost would be disproportionate
  • you create a temporary access point for emergency purposes
  • it’s needed for national defence purposes
  • it’s for carrying out work for which planning permission has been granted (but see the Regulations for restrictions on this)
  • it’s required to fulfil a statutory plant or forest health order to eradicate or prevent disease or tree pests
  • it’s required to fulfil a statutory notice preventing interference with electric powerlines and apparatus
  • it’s required to complete statutory drainage or flood defence works
  • new trunk roads or motorways are being built on the site

Please note: the fact that work is permitted by the Regulations does not affect any other prohibition or restriction such as an Inclosure Act.

Check if you can work on hedgerows or hedgerow trees

Before carrying out any work on hedgerows or hedgerow trees to trim, cut, coppice or lay a hedge you need to be aware of conditions that may affect what you can do.

Nesting birds

These are most likely to be found in the main nesting period: 1 March to 31 August.

If nesting birds are present, you mustn’t undertake any work which might harm the birds or destroy their nests, or you’ll commit an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Tree protection orders and licensing

Before carrying out work on hedgerow trees you should check:

If you receive payments on your land

If your land is included in the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), there are further restrictions on how you manage your hedgerows and hedgerow trees. See Cross compliance: guidance for 2015 (section GAEC 7a: Boundaries and GAEC 7c: Trees).

If you have an Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreement or Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreement (from 2015) make sure you know what conditions apply to hedgerows and hedgerow trees under the terms of your agreement.

See the Hedgelink website for information on management of your hedgerow and hedgerow trees, including new planting.

Report a suspected hedgerow offence

Hedgerows with nesting birds

If you suspect an offence has been committed in relation to nesting wild birds you should contact your local police force and report the incident to them. Ask for the case to be investigated by a Wildlife Crime Officer.

Hedgerows included in BPS or an environmental land management scheme

If you suspect someone is doing work on a hedgerow which is against the rules of the scheme, you should try to check the details before reporting it further. If you still have concerns you should report them to: