Legislation - Hedgerows and the Law

Ownership

Ownership of hedgerows can often be an issue for debate. Unless deeds or other legally binding documents state otherwise, it is generally accepted that, if a ditch exists alongside the hedge, the hedge belongs to the landowner on the side with no ditch. On tenanted land, all trees and saplings belong to the landlord while all bushes will be the property of the tenant. 
 

Hedge cutting responsibilities

Roadside hedges are usually the property of the adjacent landowner who must ensure that hedges and trees do not overhang highways, road signs or street lights or obstruct public footpaths or bridleways. The landowner must also ensure that clippings following trimming do not cause a hazard on the highway. In practice the County Council/Highways Authority often takes action to ensure compliance to maintain road safety on roadside hedges. The Somerset Hedge Group is working with roadside contractors to encourage sympathetic management.
 

Hedge Regulations 1997

Any farmer or landowner wishing to remove a length of hedge greater than 20 metres is required to seek permission from the local authority. The hedge will then be assessed against  criteria including age, historical interest, number of woody species and features associated with the hedge. If the hedge is deemed ‘important’ a Hedgerow Retention Notice will be served. If you have received no notice within 6 weeks of the authority receiving the notification, the hedgerow may be removed. If a Retention Notice is served, you may appeal against the decision. A fine of up to £5000 may be imposed in a Magistrates Court or an unlimited fine in the Crown Court if the necessary permission is not obtained. 
 

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and amendments

Hedges should not be trimmed during the bird-nesting season. It is an offence under the Wildlife & Countryside Act Section 1 (1) to “kill, injure or take wild birds” and to “take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built.” Undertaking hedge management (trimming, laying, and coppicing) between November and the end of February should ensure compliance with the law, but it is the responsibility of hedge workers to check no birds are nesting. Where a hedge or hedge bank contains a badger sett or sett workings, the landowner must consult the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) before any work commences. It is an offence to interfere with an active badger sett and a licence must be applied for. 

Felling licences (Forestry Act 1965)

Where hedgerow maintenance or restoration requires the removal of hedgerow trees, it may be necessary to obtain a felling licence from the Forestry Authority. You may removed up to 3 cubic metres of timber (about 3 medium sized trees) per calendar quarter without the need to obtain a felling licence.

Tree Preservation Order

Trees in a hedge may be protected by a Tree Preservation Order or Conservation Area status. If a tree or group of trees is covered by such a designation, you must consult your local authority before you undertake any work on the tree. General maintenance or restoration of the hedge does not require any consent.