Criss-crossing the countryside, hedgerows - long rows of bushes, often with trees growing amongst them - can be seen dividing up the UK landscape and providing definition and boundaries on many a golf course. They may be planted, or they may be the remnants of ancient wooded areas, but they are mainly used as barriers to prevent livestock from escaping from fields, to form boundaries between parishes, or to make it rather difficult for a golfer a) to find their ball and b) to play out of them when they do!
Many older hedgerows are a window into the past. They can range in date from mediaeval boundaries to the results of the 19th century Enclosures Act when many of the open fields and commons were divided up into smaller pockets. These older hedgerows support an amazing diversity of plants and animals and often have archaeological important old banks and ditches associated with them. It is estimated that two thirds of England has been continuously hedged for over a thousand years.
In the UK, there are currently around 280,000 miles of hedgerow. Of this, about 118,000 are thought to be ancient or species-rich. These hedges are mainly found in southern England and southern Wales, and are much scarcer in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, over half the hedgerows are deemed as species-poor.
Species-rich hedgerows: The UK Habitat Action Plan for species-rich hedgerows defines them as hedges "which contain five or more native woody species in a 30m length". Hedges that contain less than five woody species (trees and shrubs) in each 30m, but have a rich variety of herbaceous plants at their base, are also included. Hedges which consist mainly of privet, yew or non-native trees (including beech and sycamore) are excluded.
They are often a mix of shrub and tree species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, ash and oak, interwoven with climbers like old man's beard, ivy and honeysuckle. Banks and ditches fill with flowers like hedge bedstraw and red campion, whilst butterflies such as the rare black and brown hairstreaks, purple emperor and pearl-bordered fritillary, use them for nectar or to lay their eggs.
With nectar-rich blossom in the spring, insects buzzing in the dense thickets in summer and red berries abundant in autumn, hedgerows provide wildlife with a rich larder. In fact, they are so good for wildlife that 130 UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species are associated with them.
Mammals, like the European-protected hazel dormouse, bank vole, harvest mouse and hedgehog, nest and feed in hedgerows, and bats, such as the greater horseshoe and Natterer's bats, use them as green 'commuter routes' for foraging and roosting. Woodland and farmland birds such as blue tit, great tit, yellowhammer and whitethroat can be found along the hedges.
Hedgerows can also prevent soil erosion, capture pollutants such as fertilisers and pesticides running off fields, store carbon to help combat climate change, and provide homes for predators of many pest species. They also provide vital corridors across the countryside for wildlife, helping it to move about freely and keeping populations healthy.
There are a number of reasons why hedgerows are under threat. Lack of time and labour, as well as an increase in costs are the primary reasons for landowners not implementing good management of hedgerows.
Increased stocking rates by farmers, particularly of sheep, can lead to hedgerow damage and the need to fence fields. Neglect (for example, not cutting a hedge) can lead to hedgerows changing into lines of trees and the development of gaps. Using incorrect machinery, as well as cutting too often and at the wrong times, can also lead to poor hedgerow structure.
The use of fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides right up to the base of hedgerows can lead to nutrient enrichment and a decline in species diversity. Hedges have been removed for many reasons, including for agricultural and development purposes, for power lines and road re-alignment and the construction of sight lines.
Lack of traditional hedgerow management, such as coppicing or laying, has led to hedges growing tall or becoming gappy, though this trend is now being reversed through new incentives for positive management.
So, what can you do to enhance these important wildlife areas, where can you get advice on their management, and what should you do to keep within the law?
The Hedgerow Regulations 1997 is legislation designed to protect 'countryside hedgerows' of a certain age and length that have significant historical, ecological or archaeological value, rendering the complete removal of certain hedges illegal without permission from the Local Planning Authority (LPA).
Operations such as coppicing to encourage regrowth, removing dead/diseased trees and obtaining emergency access are exempt.
If you are planning on removing an 'important' hedge, the LPA will assess it against a list of criteria set out in the regulations. Hedgerows that meet any one of the criteria will not be granted removal.
If an important hedgerow is removed without consent, the LPA can issue a hedgerow replacement notice, requiring the golf club to replant a hedge at their own expense. If carrying out works on or around a hedgerow on the golf course, certain precautions must be taken, taking care to not destroy any part of the hedge during maintenance.
Exempt hedges: The Regulations only apply to 'countryside hedges' of a certain age and length and only cover the removal of a hedge and not routine hedge management operations.
Exempt hedgerows include: those defined as 'garden hedges', those less than thirty years old or less than 20m in length that do not have adjoining hedges at either end. Bear in mind, however, that gaps of less than 20m in a line of hedge are counted as contributing to the overall length of a hedge and that adjoining hedges at either end of a hedge do not need to be physically joined.
Exempt operations include:
- coppicing a hedge to ground level to encourage re-growth and removing dead, dying or diseased trees
- opening a gap in a hedge as a replacement for an existing gap - the original gap must be replanted within eight months of the opening of the new gap
- to obtain temporary access to land to give assistance in an emergency
- to obtain access to land where other means of access is not available or only available at disproportionate cost
If a hedgerow is over 20m in length and at least thirty years old, the golf club will need to contact their Local Planning Authority for advice and will generally need to serve a Hedgerow Removal Notice. There is no fee for submitting a hedgerow removal notice.
The LPA will assess the hedge against criteria listed in the Hedgerow Regulations which consider the historical, ecological and archaeological value of the hedge. If the hedge meets at least one of the criteria in the Regulations then it is considered 'important'. In this case, the LPA will issue a hedgerow retention notice preventing the golf club removing the hedge.
The main ecological criteria for important hedges include:
- seven or more woody species in a 30m length of hedge (majority of England and Wales) or
- six or more woody species in a 30m length of hedge (northern England only)
- the presence of any plant, bird or animal species listed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1991
- the presence of any plant, animal or bird species listed as a 'declining breeder', or 'vulnerable, 'rare, 'endangered' or 'extinct' in the relevant British Red Data Books
Hedgerow replacement notice
If a hedgerow meeting any of the above criteria is removed without consent, the LPA can issue a hedgerow replacement notice, requiring the golf club to replant a hedge at their own expense. If the club do not replant the hedge, the LPA has the power to enter the golf club premises, replant the hedge and reclaim expenses from the golf club. Hedges replanted under a hedgerow replacement notice are automatically considered 'important' under the Hedgerow Regulations for thirty years after planting and cannot be legally removed.
Compliance with the Hedgerow Regulations 1997:
When excavating near hedgerows, take care not to damage tree roots.
You do not need to contact the LPA before carrying out management operations, including hedge laying, as long as no sections of hedge are grubbed out or destroyed as part of the work.
Contact your local planning authority before removing any length of hedge or introducing new gaps into a hedge to seek advice. Ask for a written explanation of any informal advice given by the LPA.
If required, serve a formal hedgerow removal notice to the local planning authority.
Ask for local authority advice on whether any trees within in a hedge are protected by Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) or whether a felling licence is required.
If hedge removal is approved, the golf club must abide by the methods and operations specified in the hedgerow removal notices. Any changes would require a new removal notice.
If the LPA assess the hedge as important, they will serve a hedgerow retention notice. The golf club cannot legally remove this hedge.
Hedgerows may also be protected under local planning law so, again, check with your LPA.
More detailed information is available in the Defra guidance booklet The Hedgerows Regulations 1997: A Guide to the Law and Good Practice.
What can you do to help?
Look after hedgerows in a favourable way for wildlife on your land:
- don't cut them when birds are nesting
- don't crop them too closely
- planting trees along the hedge line can help to attract wildlife
- avoid using chemical sprays on or close to hedges
- plant native hedge species to encourage wildlife
- support the work of your local Wildlife Trust for hedgerow wildlife and become a member
Who can you call on for specialist help?
Across the UK, Wildlife Trusts manage many miles of boundary and farmland hedgerows using traditional methods for the benefit of all kinds of creatures. They also run courses for different groups of people on hedge laying and looking after species-rich hedges whether in town or country. They also provide advice to farmers and landowners about the best ways to keep their hedges healthy.
There are forty-seven Wildlife Trusts covering the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney. Each is an independent, autonomous charity with its own trustees, whose primary concern is the conservation of nature within its own geographical area.
Local Trusts are split into regions; a single Trust covers Scotland; Wales has six Trusts which work increasingly closely together; there are Trusts for Ulster, the Isle of Man, Alderney and the Isles of Scilly, plus thirty-six across England, largely based on the old county boundaries or small groupings of such counties. www.wildlifetrusts.org
Bob Taylor at the STRI is regarded as the 'fount of all knowledge' when it comes to ecological matters. He can be contacted on 07779 246991 or via emal to email@example.com.
James Hutchinson is BIGGA's Sustainability Executive and he's always worth talking to on conservation matters. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Golf Environment Organisation Tel: 01620 895100. www.golfenvironment.org
Our thanks to DEFRA, England Golf and The Wildlife Trusts for information gathered in the compilation of this article.