Updated: May 26
Everything you need to know about our irish hedgerows
& When not to cut them!
Do you have overgrown hedges casting shade on garden?
Worried that you will be told-off or fined if you cut it in the Spring?
Well read our blog to find out where you stand, and which times you are allowed to trim your hedges!!
"But why can't I cut my hedge whenever I like?"
Well there are several reasons why cutting hedges in springtime is not recommended:
Breeding Season for Wildlife: Spring is the time when birds and other wildlife begin breeding and nesting. Trimming hedges during this time can disrupt their nesting activities, potentially causing harm or stress to the wildlife. Ireland has laws and regulations in place to protect wildlife during their breeding seasons!
Growth and Flowering: Spring is a time when hedges start to put out new growth and produce flowers. Pruning hedges at this time can disrupt their growth cycle and may result in fewer flowers or a less dense or damaged hedge.
Frost and Cold Damage: In some regions (i.e most of Ireland), springtime can still experience frost or cold temperatures, especially during the early part of the season. Pruning hedges during this time can leave fresh cuts exposed to cold temperatures, which can damage the hedge and inhibit its ability to recover properly.
Disease and Pest Infestation: Pruning hedges during the spring when they are actively growing can create open wounds on the hedge, making them more susceptible to disease and pest infestation.
Overall Health and Aesthetic Appeal: Pruning hedges at the wrong time, such as during the spring, can result in a hedge that looks uneven or sparse, as it may disrupt the natural growth pattern of the hedge.
why are hedgerows important?
It is so easy to ignore hedges, as they are everywhere. But is is so important to realise, thart with this oversight, we are actually ignoring that a significant portion of our wildlife flourishes in this habitat!
Good native hedgerows offer unhindered passage between habitats for birds and animals. These natural barriers also provide ideal locations for nesting, singing, resting, feeding, and most importantly, protection against predators, whether they are terrestrial or aerial.
Diagram showing the benefits of healthy hedgerows!
Hedgerows are unique, their habitat is known as the "woodland edge." This structure encompasses a blend of woodland, flowering scrub, and grassland, with hedgerows serving as a crucial component. While hedgerows may not exactly replicate any of these habitats entirely, they are capable of supporting a diverse array of species from each of them. In fact, approximately 80% of bird species typically associated with woodlands find suitable habitat within hedgerows.
Diagram showing the immense ecological value of hedgerows!
BUT What have hedgerows ever done for us?
They help the Irish Farmers! Healthy hedgerows generate a financial return. While the cost of hedgerow maintenance can be a burden, investing in their health can result in improved profitability. Healthy hedgerows can provide several advantages for Irish farms:
Crop Protection: Hedgerows can serve as windbreaks. They can prevent crop lodging, premature flower and fruit shedding, shoot damage, and chilling injuries, which impact crop yields.
Reduced Pesticide Use: Hedgerows can increase populations of predator and parasitic species that are natural enemies of crop pests; reducing the need for pesticides.
Pollination: Hedgerows can support diverse pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, essential for crop pollination and higher crop yields. Soil Conservation: Hedgerows can reduce soil erosion, act as a barriers to water runoff, and stabilize the soil surface with their extensive root systems. Livestock Benefits: Hedgerows can serve as shelter for livestock, reducing mortality rates and the need for additional food. They can also provide shade in the summer, preventing heat stress in dairy herds and improving fertility, growth rates, and disease resistance. Supplementary feeding on native hedgerow plants can increase livestock gut microbial diversity, immune function, and feed conversion efficiency. Biosecurity: Thick, stock-proof hedges can act as barriers to the spread of disease, such as bovine tuberculosis, by reducing animal-to-animal contact between farms. Water and Flood Control: Hedgerows can help with water infiltration by enabling soils to absorb water faster, reducing surface runoff and preventing erosion. Environmental Benefits: Hedgerows can store carbon above and below ground, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts. Other Benefits: Hedgerows can provide sustainable wood fuel and timber through traditional tree management techniques such as pollarding, without losing land from production. They can also act as screens, protecting privacy and shielding farm assets and buildings from public view.
Hedgerows help sustainable farming in Ireland
So what are the rules?
It is because of these reasons that the Irish Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has issued a reminder to the public regarding the prohibition on cutting, grubbing, burning or destroying vegetation in hedges or ditches between 1st March and 31st August.
Can't stand to look at your overgrown hedges for that long? Well sadly it is stipulated in section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976. This prohibition is in place to protect biodiversity, particularly in hedgerows, which play a crucial role in supporting native woodland cover and providing food and shelter for various animals, especially birds.
A hedgerow that was severely cut and grubbed in Co. Tipperary in 2020. The length of hedgerow affected was approximately 640m (152m of which was situated along the road), spread over 3 fields. Approximately 12m of hedgerow was removed. The landowner pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined €1000. Image: NPWS
What are the loopholes?
The prohibition on hedge cutting outlined above does come with exemptions, which include:
The destruction of vegetation for ordinary agricultural or forestry practices,
The clearance of vegetation for road or other construction works, and/or
The felling or cutting of trees, shrubs, hedges or other vegetation in accordance with section 70 of the Roads Act 1993.
However, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, in conjunction with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), recommends that landowners and the general public take "reasonable steps" to ensure that any vegetation clearance is done between 1st September and 28th February, wherever possible, to avoid disturbing nesting birds during their breeding season.
It's important to note that willfully destroying, injuring, or mutilating the eggs or nests of wild birds, or disturbing wild birds on or near their nests containing eggs or young birds, is also an offense under Section 22 of the Wildlife Act 1976, and is prohibited at any time of the year.
Enforcement of these regulations is carried out by the NPWS and An Garda Síochána, and the NPWS took 31 section 40 prosecution cases in 2021. However, the NPWS hopes that fewer cases will be necessary in the future, as awareness and compliance with the regulations increase among the public.
Although this all sounds rather scary, it is for a good cause. All the animals, bugs and birds which we take for granted every day, are protected by these kinds of rules. So take note and protect our native landscape and our precious biodiversity for future generations!
Whether you value hedgerows for crop protection, pollination, stock barriers, livestock shelter, wildlife habitat, a source of income, or as a landscape feature; keeping them healthy is key to maximizing these benefits and ensuring their long-term viability. Hedgerows are a defining feature of the countryside with significant cultural and historical importance, adding to regional distinctiveness and attractiveness to our national landscape.... So don't cut your hedges in Spring,