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Countryside Hedgerow Regulations in UK

The rules for the protection and management of countryside hedgerows fall under "The Hedgerows Regulations 1997" in the United Kingdom.

Use this guide to determine whether you can remove or work on a hedgerow, what restrictions are in place, and how to avoid an unlimited fine.

How to Check if a Hedgerow is Protected?

A line of bushes (can include tall trees) that forms a boundary or perimeter is a simplified definition of a countryside hedgerow.

The exact criteria for protected hedgerows is determined by the:

  • Length (how long it is)
  • Location (what landmarks are nearby)
  • Importance (established for more than 30 years)

Note: Failing to follow the rules and regulations for removing or working on a protected hedgerow can result in an unlimited fine in the United Kingdom.

Measuring Hedgerow Length

The classification of a protected hedgerow is one that measures:

  • Less than twenty (20) metres long but meets up with another hedge at each end.
  • Over twenty (20) metres long (any gaps that exist should not be more than twenty metres along its length).

Location: Where is it Situated?

As a rule, the hedgerow will be protected if it is either on or next to:

  • A local or national nature reserve.
  • A village green.
  • Common land.
  • Land that belongs to the state.
  • Land used for agriculture or forestry (or for breeding or keeping horses, ponies or donkeys).
  • One of the protected European sites (e.g. a special area of conservation or special protection area). See the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website (JNCC) for more information about UK Protected Areas.
  • Sites of special scientific interest (SSSI).

Important: Newly planted and established hedgerows inside, or marking boundaries of, private gardens are not protected.

Hedgerows of ‘Importance’ for the United Kingdom

In most cases, an established hedgerow for at least thirty (30) years will be classed as ‘important’ and protected if it (any):

  • Contains:
    • An archaeological feature (e.g. scheduled monuments).
    • Any protected species listed in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
    • Endangered, rare, and vulnerable species 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 Hedgerow Regulations. Note that the number of woody species needed to meet the criteria is one (1) less in northern counties.
  • Is wholly or partly inside (or next to) an archaeological site listed on Historic Environment Records (HERs) – previously called a Sites and Monuments Record.
  • Is part of a field system (or appears to be related to any building or other feature associated with the field system) that existed before 1845 (see the County Records Office for further information).
  • Marks:
    • All (or a part of) a parish boundary that was in existence before 1850.
    • The boundary of an estate or manor (or it appears to be related to any building or other feature of the estate or manor that existed before 1600).

Apply to Have a Countryside Hedgerow Removed

To remove a countryside hedgerow in Britain or in Northern Ireland, it needs to be less than thirty (30) years old and you need to be (either):

  • The owner, manager, or tenant.
  • A utility company that is qualified for removing hedges.

So, before you start work, it is best to make sure you can remove a hedgerow ‘legally’ by discussing your plans with the local planning authority. The LPA is likely to be the local council authority, or:

Sending a Request to a Local Planning Authority

LPAs can take up to forty two (42) days to make a response to a written notice to remove a hedgerow (including consulting with the relevant parish council).

Unless the parish council asks for an extended period to consider the proposal, the LPA will then issue (either):

  • A hedgerow retention notice (meaning it is protected and cannot be removed).
  • A written notice that grants permission to remove it using the proposed method of removal.

If you get permission from the LPA to remove it you would get a maximum of two (2) years to complete the work (from the date of the written notice).

Note: Even though other interested parties can submit an objection about the removal (e.g. by contacting the LPA), you can go ahead and remove it if the LPA does not respond within the 42 day period.

Appealing against a Hedgerow Decision

You can appeal a hedgerow notice if you dispute the decision given to you by the local planning authority if they sent you (either):

  • A retention notice (saying that you cannot remove it).
  • A replacement notice (telling you to replace a hedgerow that you already removed).

Checking for Hedgerow Restrictions

The authorities may have placed restrictions on the hedge you want to remove. Thus, you must check if you can work on a hedgerow before you start working on it.

Birds Nesting in Hedges

Your work must not harm any nesting birds or cause damage to their nests. Most wild bird species start nesting before the breeding season (e.g. 1st of March to the 31st of August).

Tree Protection Rules and Licensing

You must check whether you need to apply for a felling licence. The LPA will confirm whether the hedgerow is in one of the conservation areas and whether there is a tree preservation order in place.

Note: The Forestry Commission provides more information about when you need to get a tree felling licence and what exemptions apply.

Common Agricultural Policy Scheme Restrictions

Do you get paid under the basic payment scheme? If so, you can check ‘cross compliance‘ restrictions (managing hedgerows in the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions guidance).

You must also check your hedgerows and boundaries grant manual (agreement handbook) for other restrictions if you have a Countryside Stewardship agreement or an Environmental Stewardship agreement.

Reporting Offences against Nesting Birds

Wildlife crime officers (stationed at local police forces) will investigate illegal activities carried out against nesting birds. You should contact the police to report a suspected offence against nesting wild birds or their eggs.

How to Report a Hedgerow Offence

The process for reporting what you believe is illegal hedgerow activity will depend on whether it is in one of the ‘Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) schemes’, such as:

  • Countryside Stewardship scheme
  • Environmental Stewardship agreement scheme
  • EU basic payment scheme

Note: Call the Rural Payments Agency on [03000 200 301] or send an email to [[email protected]] if the hedgerow is in a CAP scheme.

Related Help Guides

Note: The main section about countryside rules in Britain and Northern Ireland contains more advice and information about protected areas and restrictions.

Protection and Management of Countryside Hedgerows in United Kingdom