Environmental management – guidance

Countryside hedgerows: regulation and management

Know the rules and responsibilities for maintaining, removing and protecting hedgerows and hedgerow trees.

Overview

The Hedgerows Regulations 1997 protect ‘important hedgerows’ from being removed (uprooted or destroyed). Hedgerows are protected if they are at least 30 years old and meet at least one of the criteria listed in part II of schedule 1.

Protected hedges are those 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

The hedgerow regulations do not apply to garden hedges, even if land on the other side of the hedge meets the above criteria.

Apply to remove a hedgerow

You need written permission from your local authority to remove ‘important hedgerows’, and you must observe certain rules when you cut or coppice them.

The local planning authority (LPA) governs the protection of hedgerows from being removed (uprooted or destroyed) unlawfully. The LPA has 6 weeks to respond to your application.

The LPA is:

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

From your written application to remove a hedgerow the LPA can issue a:

  • hedgerow retention notice, if the hedge is ‘important’ and should be retained
  • hedgerow removal notice, if the hedge is not ‘important’ or if there are grounds for allowing the removal of an ‘important’ hedge

Hedgerow removal notices are only normally valid for 2 years after their issue. There is a presumption against hedgerow removal in the legislation. The LPA must keep a record of every hedgerow notice and make it available for public viewing on request.

The LPA has the power to enforce penalties if there is a breach of the hedgerow regulations.

For more information about the regulations, see:

  • The Hedgerows Regulations: your questions answered
  • The Hedgerows Regulations 1997: A Guide to the Law and Good Practice

both documents are available in hard copy on request: farmland.conservation@defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Trim, cut, coppice or lay hedgerows

Before carrying out any work to trim, cut, coppice or lay a hedge, you must check for nesting birds. These are most likely to be found in the main nesting period: 1 March to 31 July, as a general guide.

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

Before carrying out work on hedgerow trees you should check with your local authority that the tree is not covered by a Tree Preservation Order or Conservation Order.

Hedgelink and Natural England have produced guides to help with the management of your hedgerows.

Additional requirements if you receive funding under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS)

If your land is included in the SPS, there are further restrictions on how you can manage hedgerows.

For details, see the Guide to cross compliance in England 2014 (section GAEC 15: hedgerows).

Additional requirements if you receive payments for environmental land management

Please refer to the relevant scheme handbook (from when your agreement started) to make sure you know what conditions apply to your hedgerows and hedgerow trees under your agreement:

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 if possible and ask for an incident number so you can go back to them if needed.

Hedgerows included in SPS or a land management scheme

If you suspect someone is doing work on a hedgerow which is not being done in accordance with 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: