Countryside hedgerows: protection and management
Find out if you can remove or work on countryside hedgerows that you own or manage.
Hedgerows made up of a line of trees and shrubs in the countryside are protected by law from being removed or worked on without control.
You could be fined up to £5,000 if you break the rules for removing certain hedgerows. If you’re formally charged you could get an unlimited fine (under the Hedgerows Regulations 1997).
Protected countryside hedgerows
Protected countryside hedgerows are defined by their length and location.
A countryside hedgerow is protected if it’s:
- a boundary line of trees and shrubs that at one time was a continuous line
- more than 20m long with gaps of 20m or less in its length
- less than 20m long, but meets another hedge at each end
- less than 5m at its base
A countryside hedgerow is protected if it’s 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 protected European site such as a special area of conservation or special protection area
- a national nature reserve
- a local nature reserve
- a public right of way
- Crown land
Hedgerow age - ‘important’ hedgerows
An important hedgerow must be protected. The local planning authority (LPA) will refuse permission to remove an important hedgerow.
A hedgerow is known as ‘important’ if it’s at least 30 years old and is at least one of the following:
- marks all or part of a parish boundary that existed before 1850
- contains an archaeological feature such as a scheduled monument
- is completely or partly in or next to an archaeological site listed on the Historic Environment Record (HER), (formerly the Sites and Monuments Record)
- marks the boundary of an estate or manor or looks to be related to any building or other feature that’s part of the estate or manor that existed before 1600
- is part of a field system or looks to be related to any building or other feature associated with the field system that existed before the Inclosure Acts (that is before 1845)
- contains protected species listed in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
- contains species that are endangered, vulnerable and rare and identified in the British Red Data books
- includes woody species and associated features as specified in the regulations
The number of woody species needed to meet the criteria is reduced by one in northern counties. See 7(2) of the Hedgerows Regulations for the counties affected.
Apply to remove a countryside hedgerow
You should discuss your plans with your LPA first to make sure the hedgerow is suitable for removal. You must apply to your LPA in writing before you remove a countryside hedgerow.
The LPA is one of the following:
- 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
You’ll need to:
- clearly identify which hedgerow you propose to remove by marking it on a large scale plan (at 1:2,500 scale)
- say why you want to remove it
- give evidence that the hedge is less than 30 years old, such as a receipt of the plants or a photograph taken within the last 29 years
- state whether you’re the owner, tenant or manager of the hedgerow or the relevant utility company eligible to remove it
How your LPA will respond
Your 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 protected and must be kept
- a written notice giving permission to remove it in the way you’ve proposed
If you don’t hear back from the LPA within 42 days, you can remove the hedgerow.
You have up to 2 years from the date of the written notice giving you permission to remove the hedgerow.
The LPA must keep a public record of all hedgerow notices that they issue.
Appeal a hedgerow notice
You can follow the appeal process if you disagree with a decision and your LPA has sent you either:
- a retention notice, saying you can’t remove a hedgerow
- a replacement notice, telling you to replace a hedgerow you’ve already removed
You can appeal to the Secretary of State (Defra) in writing within 28 days of the LPA decision.
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 20m long and doesn’t meet another hedge at either end
- it’s in or borders a domestic dwelling
- you’re making an new opening to replace existing access to the land (the previous access gap must be filled by planting a hedge within 8 months of making the new opening)
- you’re correctly managing the hedgerow by laying or coppicing
- there’s no other cost-effective way of accessing your land
- you need to create a temporary access point for emergency purposes
- the land is needed for national defence purposes
- it’s for carrying out work for which planning permission has been granted or is permitted development under the Town and Country Planning Order 1995
- it’s to eradicate or prevent disease or tree pests by law, for example a plant health (forestry) order
- it’s to prevent interference with electric power lines and apparatus by law
- it’s to complete drainage or flood defence works by law
- new trunk roads or motorways are being built on the site
If work is permitted by these regulations you should check with your LPA that there’s no other restriction on the hedgerow.
Check if you can work on hedgerows
Find out what restrictions there may be to trimming, cutting, coppicing or laying a hedgerow before you start work.
You must not do any work which might harm nesting birds or destroy their nests. You’ll usually find nesting birds during the main nesting period from 1 March to 31 August.
Tree protection and licensing
Before carrying out work on hedgerow trees you should check whether:
- the tree is protected by a tree preservation order - issued by the LPA
- you need a felling licence - issued by the Forestry Commission
Restrictions from land management schemes
Read these good agricultural and environmental conditions (GAEC) to find out the restrictions on managing hedgerows if your land is part of the Basic Payment Scheme:
Make sure you know what conditions apply to your hedgerows if you have an Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreement or Countryside Stewardship agreement (from 2015). Check your agreement handbook.
See the Hedgelink website for information on management of your hedgerow and hedgerow trees, including new planting and how to support wildlife.
Report a suspected hedgerow offence
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 land management schemes
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:
Published: 11 September 2014
Updated: 8 November 2016
- This page has been updated to improve: * the definition of a protected hedgerow and important hedgerow * what you need to provide the LPA when you apply to remove a hedgerow * how the LPA will respond to the request
- First published.