NFU member blog: Hedgerows - quintessentially British and something we should be enormously proud of

Published 23 June 2021

Environment Net zero
A portrait photo of NFU Environment Forum member Jake Fiennes

NFU Environment Forum member Jake Fiennes of Holkham Hall Estate reflects on the fundamental importance of the great British hedgerow.

He writes:

What do we have that is quintessentially British, recognised around the world, and has formed part of our farmed landscape for centuries? The hedgerow.

With more than 500,000 miles of hedges in various forms and shapes, and managed in a range of ways, they are a hugely important part of our agricultural heritage and history. Some date back to medieval times, others were part of the Enclosure Acts of the 18th and 19th centuries, and many more have been newly planted under 30 years of agri-environment schemes. No other country in the world has an extensive network of field boundary features like we do in the UK. Recognised globally to be quintessentially British and something we should be enormously proud of.

Why are hedges so important?

Without doubt, hedges are getting more and more attention on multiple platforms. Early indications are that the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) will reward land occupiers to maintain and manage the hedgerows.

One of the most important elements of natural capital on British farmland after soil, water and air is our hedgerows. They protect livestock from the elements, reduce erosion from both wind and water, and have the capability to enhance biodiversity and capture carbon.

Recently, farmers have been challenged on the way we choose to manage these assets. What is fundamentally important is an acknowledgement that there are a range of management styles, at a range of different stages of growth, while taking into account local and regional management themes.

Wildlife habitats

Hedgerows are one of our most easily encountered wildlife habitats on the farm. They provide song posts, shelter, and nesting opportunities for a range of woodland and farmland birds such as Yellowhammer, White Throat and Grey Partridge. They also deliver nectar for pollinators and provide berries and nuts for winter food for farm wildlife. They are an excellent wildlife habitat and reduce soil erosion and water run off on farms.

Flowering and fruiting on many of the hedgerow species only occurs in the second year of growth and by years three and four the quantity of fruit can increase by as much as 200%.

Cutting

The cutting of hedgerows should be undertaken on a hedge-by-hedge basis and where there are opportunities to leave cutting for longer periods, this should be embraced. If the cutting of the hedge is deemed necessary, why not start making inroads into your carbon emissions by tipping the woody growth as opposed to pushing the hedge back two to three years’ worth of growth? This will save diesel and steel while still providing benefits to the wider environment. Consider the location of the hedge – if it is not impeding machinery, or next to a road with no verge, do you need to cut it at all? If left to their own devices, most hedge plants will reach their maximum height and form a domed shape, naturally protecting wildlife and acting as an excellent stock barrier.

NFU Hedges Competition

If you are thinking of creating a new hedge during the next planting season you could win 100 metres worth of hedgerow plants by entering the NFU's national hedgerow competition. Find out how you can take part by taking our net zero #Pledge2040 and submitting a video or a photo with captions describing why hedgerows are important for net zero. The hedge plants will be provided by the Woodland Trust as part of their MOREhedges scheme.

Ask us a question about this page

Once you have submitted your query our NFU CallFirst team will contact you and, if appropriate, your question will be passed on to one of our policy teams.

By completing the form with your details on this page, you are agreeing to have this information sent to the NFU for the purposes of contacting you regarding your enquiry. Please take time to read the NFU’s Privacy Policy if you require further information.