Field Hedge Management

Cornish Hedges were constructed and maintained for the benefits of their time. They remain functional parts of our landscape but they are now  valued for additional reasons such as habitat and biodiversity. Appropriate management will see our hedges continue to make a positive contribution to the landscape for generations to come.   

The Hedgerows Regulations 1997 were introduced to counteract some of the damage to wildlife, landscape and heritage caused by hedge removal.

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Traditionally our hedges were trimmed by hand with a long-handled slasher, but nowadays economics dictate mechanical trimming. The flail has to be used with skill and care, and at the right time of winter, for it to restore Cornwall's hedges to anything like their former glory, bringing trees, bushes and wild flowers back into the Cornish landscape. We have developed recommended practice for modern hedge management.

Hedges with trees.

With a moderately permeable hedge, there is likely to be a reduction in wind speed of about 20% and appreciable shelter leewards of 8-12 times the height of the hedge. There are significant gains in livestock and wildlife comfort and in crop yields. Crop losses from shade do not typically extend beyond the usual headland or field margin.

Hedges without trees.

Usually too low to give real shelter and shade, though livestock in exposed areas will value it, and there is some reduction of salt-burn in crops.

 

Hedges around private houses, factories, institutions, etc give an opportunity for traditional winter maintenance using hook and slasher, or electric hedge trimmer.

Strimmers should not be used on Cornish hedges, because they devastate wildlife. Neither should herbicides be used, because the resulting loss of healthy rootage causes structural collapse.

Everyone loves garden birds, and no one wishes to break the law protecting them, so must be aware that nesting birds are in hedges and shrubs from March to August. 

The wish to display the stone facing of Cornish hedges has to be firmly resisted as this has a disastrous effect on the hedge structure, wild flowers, and birds.

With correct trimming, a Cornish hedge acquires a wealth of natural wildflowers. Most garden plants are unsuitable for Cornish hedges. An exception is the old Cornish tin-miners' souvenir from Central America, the pretty pink-and-white daisy Mexican Fleabane (known as "Cousin-Jack's") which thrives controllably, and reduces maintenance. In former times, the old-fashioned Fuchsia riccartonii, Tamarix gallica and Escallonia Crimson Spire were often planted on hedgetops in the milder parts of Cornwall, giving the landscape a special distinction beloved by local people and visitors. This tradition needs reviving.

An unsprayed and unfertilised strip 1-2m (3½ -7ft) wide protects hedge structure, helps combat invasive weeds and encourages beneficial wildlife.

It is simply created by ploughing and allowing natural regeneration. It gradually develops a wildflower-rich tussocky mix with a basal leaf litter for insects and small mammals. Topping at 250mm (10") each year in October is the only maintenance needed, and deals with brambles from the hedge.

The combination of properly trimmed hedge and field margin is best.

Single Payment Scheme Cross Compliance requirements limit the use of herbicides and cultivation close to hedges. See http://www.rpa.gov.uk/

Coppicing is a traditional way of managing trees on Cornish hedges, to improve shelter and landscape. It involves cutting the tree down to about 0.5m (1½ft) from the hedgebank top, and allowing regrowth.

  • According to need and local tradition, chosen individual trees may be coppiced, or all trees in a hedge length coppiced in rotation.
  • Where shading is a problem, coppice the offending trees only.
  • Plan to minimise impact on the landscape and wildlife.
  • Coppice only during September to February, leaving uncoppiced trees at irregular intervals along the hedge.
  • Conifers cannot be coppiced as they do not regrow.
  • Leave behind on the hedge, some of the old dead and cut wood for fungi and insects.

Laying is where the stem of the bush or sapling is part-cut near the ground and bent over to make a stock-proof boundary.

Layering is more suitable for growth on top of hedgebanks, as the growing tip of the stem is embedded so that it roots.

Both techniques are used in winter or for mending gaps at any time. Properly maintained, a laid thorn or beech hedge will last for 20 years before relaying, a hazel, sycamore or ash much less. Gappy top growth on a hedgebank is layered at the same time as the hedge is "cast up" (where soil, washed down the hedge, is mechanically returned to the hedge top, so fallen seed re-cycles the hedge flora).

If you have a hedge on your property which is adjacent to a public road or right of way (a highway) advice is available in our leaflet 'Cornish Hedge Management for hedges adjacent to highways'. This gives information on  how to best look after your hedge and fulfil your legal obligations.

Many private householders have a short length of roadside hedge to look after, and they have the same legal responsibilities as other owners and occupiers under the Highways Act 1980. Garden hedges growing over urban highways and footways can be a particular problem.

You can report a problem with trees, hedges, verges or weeds.