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Factsheet: Hedges and verges

Maintaining hedges and trees

Tips for maintaining your hedges and trees
Hedge and tree maintenance needs to take into account ground conditions, agricultural land use, wildlife and highway safety.

We usually recommend trimming back hedges in January and February because:

  • it reduces the chance of disturbing breeding birds which have legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
  • most plants will have finished flowering and seeding
  • it allows berries and nuts to be available for wildlife for as long as possible during the winter
  • it is likely that there will be less traffic on the roads, reducing congestion and delays.

Where hedges are set back from the edge of the road and safety considerations allow, hedges should be cut on a two or three year, or longer, cycle.

Hedges should be cut back to maintain the minimum required clearances for roads and footways:

  •  1.5m clearance on footways for safe passage
  • 5.2m clearance for hedges overhanging roads
  • 2.1m clearance for hedges overhanging footpaths
  • 2.5m clearance for hedges overhanging cycleways

If the side of the hedge bordering the road has to be cut every year for visibility, drainage or other reasons, you should consider only cutting the top and field side of the hedge every two or three years, or less frequently.

Avoid routinely cutting back to the same point. Encouraging new shoots and branching close to the base of the hedge helps to produce dense growth – ideal for stock control and wildlife.

Hedgebanks should not be cut bare, otherwise they might dry out or be vulnerable to frost, and archaeological features and plant life may be lost or damaged.

Where a hedge is over-mature and losing vigour, or gaps are appearing, it can be layed or coppiced, but some trees should be retained.

Hedgerow saplings and trees should also be left, or planted, at varying intervals and allowed to mature.

Herbicides should not be used to control or remove general hedge growth.

Older hedgerows are important features of the Devon landscape and their conservation is vital, which may involve specialist maintenance techniques such as hedgelaying. For more information and advice, contact The Devon Hedge Group.

Commission regular inspections of trees. The minimum clearance for tree branches overhanging the highway is:

  • 5.2m for trees overhanging roads
  • 2.1m for trees overhanging footpaths
  • 2.5m for trees overhanging cycleways

Assess overhanging branches for their condition and take action on those that are a hazard or obstructing the road or path.

Talk to your local city, district or borough council before pruning or tree felling as their consent may be needed if the tree is protected or in a conservation area.

Talk to the Forestry Commission before tree felling as a licence may be needed. The Arboricultural Association has a directory of qualified tree surgeons who can safely undertake work on trees.

The National Tree Safety Group and The Forestry Commission provide information about safely managing your trees.


Removing hedgerows
Under the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 it is an offence to remove a hedgerow or section of hedgerow without notifying the local planning authority. For more details contact the city, borough or district council or national park authority for your area.


Planting trees
If you want to plant trees or shrubs in a highway verge phone 0345 155 1004. We will assess the suitability of the location and look at safety issues such as the effect on visibility for road users before we can issue a licence. Remember that you may be asked to be responsible for the future maintenance of what you plant.