Within a thick and spreading hawthorn bush
That overhung a molehill large and round,
I heard from morn to morn a merry thrush
Sing hymns to sunrise, and I drank the sound
With joy; and often, an intruding guest,
I watched her secret toil from day to day -
How true she warped the moss to form a nest,
And modeled it within with wood and clay;
And by and by, like heath-bells gilt with dew,
There lay her shining eggs, as bright as flowers,
Ink-spotted over shells of greeny blue;
And there I witnessed, in the sunny hours,
A brood of nature's minstrels chirp and fly,
Glad as the sunshine and the laughing sky.

John Clare, The Thrush's Nest


Hedgerows should be considered a complete ecosystem, rather than a dull line of single species. Modern hedges which result from poor farm maintenance practice and unimaginative planting of single species provide little in the way of biodiversity, shelter, food or visual pleasure.



From a conservation and wildlife perspective deep hedges are far preferable. A newly planted hedge with plants jammed together is either a throwback to days when hedges were planted primarily to provide a barrier to livestock, or a requirement for hedging grants under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme 

Good preparation makes planting much simpler: it is easy to plant into ground that has been rotovated or ploughed; in clay soils this also makes it much less likely that soggy pockets will develop which will rot the roots.

For wildlife conservation, we suggest the following scheme.

·                Turnover, plough or rotovate an area 1.5 metres wide

·                If possible arrange to turn over a furrow on either side of the planting area towards the centreline to create a small plateau, with a ditch on either side - this ditch helps retain moisture, reduces soil erosion, absorbs fertilisers, and can create a local damp microclimate

·                Plant hedging whips (bare rooted plants 1 to 2 years old) in two rows, at 0.33 to 0.5 m centres with at least 1 metre between rows.

·                Plant trees  or large native shrubs in the gap between rows and mark them with fluorescent tape

·                Mulch the trees using mulch mats or loose materials such as straw (to 10 cm depth) or newspapers topped with soil : ensure the mulching material does not touch  the plant

·                Mulch the hedging plants if at all possible (around 50% of amenity trees and shrubs planted in UK die during the first 3 years due to lack of moisture)

·                Establish rabbit protection if there is a rabbit problem in the area, using either large diameter spiral guards or wire mesh (see comment on spirals below) (for suppliers see, amongst others http://www.acorn-p-p.co.uk/))

·                Check planting and anti rabbit precautions: water if possible during dry spells. Gap-up during the winter planting season if any plants have died.

The gap between rows may seem big, but this is where the smaller mammals and birds will get their shelter; this gap also acts as a corridor for wildlife.



A species list is on our website (species list): a mixture is essential to attract a variety of animal life, don’t forget understorey plants. If you want to grow plugs, use seed trays filled with poor quality soil using seeds collected locally, or obtained from suppliers like Emorsgate. These trays will get plants like primrose, foxgloves, campion, yarrow, sorrel, herb bennet, common vetch etc. established quickly.

Where possible source suitable plants from nurseries which grow from locally grown seed stock. Some sources of good provenance are given on our Links page. Beware of cultivated plants from overseas.

The most reputable suppliers will be able to give seed provenance.



Protecting plants is important: large diameter spiral rabbit guards are acceptable for a short period only; used for longer periods they prevent air circulation and allow mould infection, and produce spindly plants; Plastic mesh guards are better than spirals, though more expensive. For longer runs, chicken wire fencing (600 mm high, with maximum 30 mm mesh size, fixed top and bottom by high tensile wire, with stakes at 8- 10 m intervals) is more economical, and makes for a healthier hedge than spirals) - see the excellent BTCV guide on fencing for more information ((http://handbooks.btcv.org.uk/handbooks/)

Tree guards should be used to prevent deer browsing on the leading shoots of trees; these also speed growth of trees in their early years.

A large proportion of amenity trees and shrubs die due to neglect, mainly from lack of water, or from weed encroachment. Mulching with horticultural plastic, newspaper covered with earth, grass cuttings or straw works well. This is particularly important to enable any new trees to get a good start. It is possible to buy mulch mats made of plastic or bitumen (which degrades).



Modern farming practice has resulted in huge amounts of damage to hedges; you will have seen gappy hedges, with no base, caused by careless or thoughtless trimming with flails. ‘A’ shaped hedges are much preferable-they are healthier, stronger and offer a better habitat for wildlife, and better shelter for livestock.

Hedge bases are an important habitat for all wildlife.    Cutting of hedge base vegetation, particularly in autumn, should be avoided where possible.

The tops of hedge plants should trimmed lightlyat p[lanting time to encourage bushy growth.

Hedge cutting should only be undertaken during the early spring, in order to avoid the start of bird nesting and to reduce damage to the food supply, and should not be carried out annually. Flails can be used providing the wood is not too thick; scissor action cutters are better. Trimming should follow the direction of any previous hedgelaying to minimise damage to the wood.

A healthy hedge can normally recover well from severe cutting, but repeated cutting can gradually cause whole hedges to die off. One major problem associated with mechanized hedge cutting is the decline in the number of saplings left in hedges to grow into mature trees Marking these with fluorescent tape will assist their survival.

As hedges grow, they gradually become more tree-like; gaps tend to appear lower down and the stems cease to provide an effective barrier. At this point, the hedge should be allowed to grow sufficiently tall so that it can be laid, both to fill in the gaps and to ensure the long-term viability of the hedge by promoting vigorous regrowth from the base of the hedge. If the hedge is in very poor condition coppicing may be the best solution.



A ‘modern’ vertical-sided hedge is almost useless as a source of food and shelter. An “A” shape is good, a rounded shape even better.


This wildlife-friendly hedge is in East Hampshire.



Hedgelaying involves cutting nearly all the way through the base of the stems and laying them over at an angle of about 30 degrees. The cut stems (pleachers), are laid parallel to each other.

Typically, hedges are staked vertically and bound horizontally for strength and to achieve the thickest possible hedge.

Stumps are cut as cleanly as possible; this is where regrowth is required . Eventually  a new hedge will grow from the established root system. Meanwhile, the laid pleachers act as a stock barrier and protect the regrowth from browsing.

Hedges can survive indefinitely if laid every 15 to 25 years. This cost is roughly equivalent to that of fencing.

Coppicing a hedge, i.e. cutting it off completely at just above ground level, is also a good way of revitalizing hedges. Coppicing will often take place in conjunction with gapping up and is the best treatment for hedges damaged by over flailing or poor shaping.



Encourage mixed species hedges, through new planting, or gapping up

Protect the plant roots from drying out when planting : 5 minutes exposure to a breeze or strong sunshine can kill a plant

Mark newly planted trees with fluorescent tape to ensure they don’t get chopped during hedge cutting

Use locally grown plants of known provenance

Protect your plants well during planting; a plant with dried roots is well in its way to being dead

Hedgelaying : this is recommended as a method for hedge-rejuvenation, wildlife conservation and stockproofing.

Mark saplings to ensure they do not get flailed



Attempt to infill a gappy hedge unless the gaps are few: it is often better to coppice the hedge or fill gaps with new plants, or grub out and replant completely 

Use a flail except on green growth (Finger bar cutters with reciprocating blades are better)

Flail during nesting season

Flail when there are seeds on the hedge – to all intents this means cutting in January and February only

Flail established trees

Apply herbicides, pesticides or fertilisers within 1.5m of a hedgerow

Attach fencing wire to hedgerow trees and shrubs

Plant poisonous plants such as yew or box where farm stock or horses can get near the hedge

Plant during very dry, windy or frosty periods



In a new hedge, put in some shelter for smaller animals -  broken clay pipes or pots for frogs and toads – small piles of logs for snakes, mice, insects, beetles etc.



Durham County Council produce good guides : one is


An excellent guide can be obtained from the BTCV (though not free), which goes into considerable details about hedges, planting, maintenance, laying etc.

Other sites in our links page also give plenty of useful information; in particular we recommend the authoritative site


Your local Wildlife Trust may be able to offer assistance for suitable schemes in terms of volunteer or highly subsidized labour. (see Links)










or see our links page (link to)