Hedgerows are a dynamic organism, just like the individual plants from which they are formed – and, consequently, they require dynamic management. The ultimate goal in hedge management is to create a thick, dense hedgerow that will have high wildlife and nature value, as well as providing many benefits to yourself. By Tony Ridd

Regardless of any management carried out, the lower parts of a hedge’s vegetation will eventually thin, and require rejuvenation, and this can be done through laying or coppicing.

Where possible, cut hedges gradually higher and wider. When hedges are cut to the same width and height year after year, fewer flowers and fruit are produced and the food available to wildlife is reduced. Cutting to the same trim line each year also causes stem health to deteriorate. 

At first, a hedge managed in this way will lose its lower branches and over time become ‘leggy’ and at risk of invasion. Eventually, the hedge will lose some of the main woody stems along its length, becoming ‘gappy’. Trimming slightly higher and wider each year, will help to prevent this outcome. The hedge can then be re-shaped when needed.

Hedgerow trees, especially native ones, are fantastic for wildlife and will increase both the abundance and diversity of species inhabiting a hedge. Old trees are especially valuable as their rot holes and dead wood are amazing roost sites for birds and bats. 

Aim for a balance of both old, mature hedgerow trees that provide valuable deadwood habitat, and young trees that will become the mature hedgerow trees of the future. New young trees can be established by selecting suitable straight-growing stems already present in the shrub layer of a hedge, and not cutting or rejuvenating these when the shrub layer is next cut.

If you can, leave trimming until late winter, ideally January or February. Try to avoid trimming every year: this will increase the abundance of flowers and berries, which are often only produced on two year and older stems. The benefit of this is that hedges can be cut on rotation, with only half or a third of hedges being cut in any one year. Rather than cutting all of these hedges in one block, aim to distribute rotational cutting across a site so that the resources in an area aren’t all removed in one go. 

An alternative is to cut just one side of each hedge every year. This will reduce the cutting time and leave flowers and berries on each hedge.

Gaps in hedges reduce the total area of the hedge habitat, as well as their value as a wildlife corridor. Any gaps can be planted up with a range of native shrub or tree species. Increasing the number of plant species in a hedge will help to provide food in the form of flowers or fruit throughout the year.