Hedgerows are an important feature of our landscape for many reasons. They provide shelter and protection in otherwise open areas for many small mammals, they provide nesting sites for birds, and the berries and nuts they produce in autumn are important food for all sorts of creatures as winter closes in.
Herefordshire’s countryside is rich in ancient and species-rich hedgerows. An ancient hedgerow is one which has been in existence since before the Enclosure Acts of the 18th and early 19th centuries while a species-rich hedgerow is one in which five or more native woody species can be found in a 30-metre length.
Herefordshire Wildlife Trust often receives calls and enquiries about hedge trimming. It is not really surprising as driving through the county’s lanes it is noticeable that hedge trimming begins in earnest in September and October. The enquiries we receive are often about the timing of hedge trimming: when is the best time to trim a hedge for wildlife; are there laws that prevent hedge trimming at certain times of the year and do I need to trim my hedges every year? Whether you are a gardener or a farmer the timing of hedge cutting can have a big impact on wildlife.
It is generally accepted that cutting a hedge between the start of March and the end of August is best avoided because this is when birds are nesting. It is an offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.
From the beginning of September onwards you are far less likely to disturb nesting birds. However, for the benefit of wildlife we recommend landowners and gardeners manage their hedges much later in winter. Trimming and flailing hedges removes the majority of hedgerow fruits and cutting hedges too early could starve birds of the berries they need to survive through to spring. Leaving them as late as possible such as in January and the first half of February give the birds an opportunity to exploit this food source - but leave it any later and the birds will have started nesting again!
Better still is cutting your hedges every two to three years instead of every winter. This will avoid the problems of removing all of the hedgerow fruit in one year but it will also substantially increase the yield of hedgerow fruits because many trees like hawthorn produce their flowers and fruits on second year growth.
So, if you are thinking of cutting back your hedges please leave it to January and early February to give our wildlife a helping hand!
Andrew Nixon, Conservation Senior Manager at Herefordshire Wildlife Trust