Guidance

Countryside hedgerows: protection and management

Find out if you can remove or work on countryside hedgerows that you own or manage.

The Hedgerows Regulations (1997) protect countryside hedgerows. You could get a fine up to £5,000 if you break the rules for removing them. In serious cases you could get an unlimited fine for removing hedgerows in cases referred to the Crown Court.

Check if a hedgerow is protected

A countryside hedgerow is protected if it meets the following criteria for:

  • length
  • location
  • ‘importance’

Length

A hedgerow is a boundary line of bushes which can include trees and is protected if it’s:

  • more than 20m long with gaps of 20m or less in its length
  • less than 20m long, but meets another hedge at each end
  • any stretch within the above

Location

A hedgerow is protected if it’s on or next to:

  • land used for agriculture or forestry
  • land used for breeding or 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
  • Crown land

Protection does not apply to hedgerows in or marking the boundary of private gardens.

‘Importance’

A hedgerow is important (and is protected) if it’s at least 30 years old and meets at least one of these criteria:

  • 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 a Historic Environment Record (HER), (formerly a 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 Schedule 1, Part II Criteria, paragraph 7(1) of the regulations

The number of woody species needed to meet the criteria is one less in northern counties (see paragraph 14) of the regulations.

Apply to remove a countryside hedgerow

You should discuss your proposal to remove a hedgerow with your local planning authority (LPA) first to make sure it’s legal to do so. You must apply to your LPA in writing before you remove it.

The LPA is one of the following:

You’ll need to:

  • clearly identify which hedgerow you propose to remove by marking it on a large scale plan (preferably 1:2,500 scale)
  • say why you want to remove it
  • provide evidence that the hedge is less than 30 years old, such as a receipt of the plants, a photograph taken within the last 29 years or relevant documentation
  • 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. If you’ve not provided enough evidence your LPA will ask you to send in appropriate documents. The 42-day deadline will start again from the date the LPA receives your documents. In that time they must consult with the relevant parish council. Parish councils can ask for more time to consider your proposal, but all parties must agree a new deadline.

The LPA 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

You have up to 2 years from the date of the written notice giving you permission to remove the hedgerow. You must apply for permission again if you allow 2 years to elapse.

You can remove the hedgerow if you don’t hear back from the LPA within the 42-day period.

The LPA must keep a public record of all hedgerow notices that they issue. There’s no legal duty to hold a formal public consultation, but the LPA must consider any objections they receive.

Appeal a hedgerow decision

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 must appeal 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’re removing a hedgerow if:

  • it’s less than 20m long, isn’t part of a 20m length and doesn’t meet another hedge at either end
  • it’s in or borders a domestic dwelling
  • you’re making a 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 which has planning permission
  • 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 or damage to electric power lines and apparatus
  • it’s to complete legally permitted drainage or flood defence works
  • new trunk roads or motorways are being built on the site

Check with your LPA that there’s no other restriction on the hedgerow such as permitted development - when you must have permission to remove most hedgerows.

Check if you can work on a hedgerow

Find out what restrictions there may be to trimming, cutting, coppicing or laying a hedgerow before you start work.

Nesting birds

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 and breeding season from 1 March to 31 August.

Tree protection and licensing

Before carrying out work on hedgerow trees you must check if:

Restrictions for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) schemes

Find out about restrictions on managing hedgerows in the good agricultural and environmental conditions (GAEC) guidance if you get paid under the Basic Payment Scheme.

GAEC 7a: boundaries (which includes hedgerows)

GAEC 7c: trees

Make sure you know what conditions apply to your hedgerows if you have an Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreement or Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreement (from 2015). Check your agreement handbook. The GAEC guidance will also apply to hedges covered by ES and CS agreements.

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

Nesting birds

Report a suspected offence against nesting wild birds or their eggs to your local police force. Ask for a wildlife crime officer to investigate for illegal activity.

Hedgerows in CAP 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. If you still have concerns you should report them to:

Published 11 September 2014
Last updated 16 August 2017 + show all updates
  1. Corrected guidance on hedgerow removal and when you need permission to do this.
  2. 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
  3. First published.