Implement the Hedge Code
Further information about the Hedge Code actions and how you can operationalise them on your land.
How to Operationalise the Hedge Code
Although October to March is the busy season for hedgerow management, the mapping and planning steps can be done year-round—so you can get started anytime!
Further Information on the Hedge Code
Plant native, pollinator-friendly trees of Irish provenance.
Species to include in your mix: Whitethorn/hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hazel, Holly, Guelder rose, Crab apple, Alder buckthorn, Spindle, Rowan, Bird cherry, Wild cherry, Downy birch, Oak, Willow, Whitebeam. Native, Irish provenance trees are better adapted to our climate and therefore have more resilience to ecological shocks and stressors. They are also more suitable as food sources because their nutritional quality and flowering time match the seasonal needs of Irish wildlife. Including pollinator-friendly trees in your species mix also benefits insects such as bees, butterflies, moths, and hoverflies. Ireland’s native pollinators are in decline due to agricultural intensification (reduced flower-rich areas and increased use of chemicals), urban land-use change, and other environmental pressures. Learn more on https://pollinators.ie/.
Plant whips every 30cm in two staggered rows with a 40cm gap.
Double staggered rows are wider and provide more shelter and habitat for wildlife than single row hedges. Click here for a step-by-step overview of hedge planting.
Maintain a 1-2 metre hedge margin for wildlife.
We ask supporters to maintain a minimum 1 -2 metre hedge margin to encourage participation. However, a minimum 3 metre margin on each side would be more practical and beneficial from a farming point of view and for road safety. The wider and wilder your grass or wildflower margin is, the more suitable it is for ground-nesting birds and foraging wildlife. Hedge margins are essential networks for nature by improving food availability and protecting wildlife from predation.
Only lay or trim hedges from Sep-Feb, ideally later in the season.
It is an offence to cut or lay hedgerows between the 1st of March and the 31st of August under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976 as amended by the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Heritage Act 2018. Ideally, you should wait until January or February to allow wildlife to feed on berries throughout autumn. There are few other food sources available to them during this time.
Lightly trim hedges in an A-shape every 3-4 years.
Only trim new soft growth; don’t cut down to the previous cut and instead gradually increase your cutting height each time. This incremental height increase prevents a hard knuckle from forming at the cutting area, which reduces stem health and shortens the hedgerow’s lifespan. Also, cut your hedges in rotation as scheduled in your management plan. Many Irish hedgerows are composed primarily of hawthorn, whose blossom is produced on the previous year’s growth. This means that annually cut hedges will not produce blossom to the same extent, which leads to no pollen for pollinators or berries for birds. Cutting your hedge on a 3-4 year rotation means that some sections are suitable for wildlife at all times. Use a circular saw instead of a flail, as the latter damages wider stems and branches, thus causing rot and shortening the hedgerow’s lifespan. An A-shape cut, rather than the boxed top and sides, is better for wildlife as it increases light penetration to the ground level, encouraging a denser base that benefits ground-nesting birds, mammals such as hedgehogs, and insects.
Trim for road safety and visibility at dangerous bends or junctions.
The 1993 Roads Act defines the legal responsibility of local authorities for the public road network, and landowners are served with notices to breast and top roadside hedgerows to maintain a clear road and sightlines. At junctions, hedgerows must be cut low to maintain visibility when turning. The Hedge Code encourages landowners to use a circular saw rather than a flail for trimming roadside hedges and to maintain wilder, un-cut grassy and wildflower margins on each side. When mapping your hedgerows and scheduling your management plan, differentiate between roadside and internal hedgerows to apply a less frequent and lower intensity cutting schedule for the latter.
Lay hedges on a 15-20 year cycle to retain wildlife habitat.
Only 5% of your hedgerow should be laid or coppiced in any one year to retain habitats for wildlife. A map allows you to record which sections you have already completed and how many you have left until the cycle starts again. This means you can allocate a more specific annual budget for a professional hedge layer and also monitor how a laid hedge changes in 1, 3 or 5 years (which gives you an interesting insight into the ecology of your land).
The cost of laying or coppicing hedges varies site-by-site but can start from £15/€17-20 per metre for a straightforward hedge (e.g. one that has been laid previously or is recently planted). Click here for more information. However, reducing the frequency of cutting to every 3-4 years (except for roadside hedges where safety regulations may apply) will save you the cost of annually hiring a contractor or buying fuel for machinery. Additionally, farmers can avail of grants under the government ACRES scheme or get paid for participating in results-based schemes such as the FarmPEAT project. Individual landowners can also join a hedge laying training day and learn how to maintain their hedgerows themselves (as well as continuing on an ancient tradition). In some cases, County Councils may provide funding for planting or laying hedgerows as this supports Ireland’s natural and cultural heritage. Indirect cost savings can also come from nature-friendly hedgerow management because it offers flooding protection and the annual laying/coppicing cycle can provide a reliable source of free and local firewood (although leaving log piles and deadwood is also vital for biodiversity).
Hedgerows can be laid when they are at least 3-4 metres high and their stems are no more than about 18cm in diameter. If they are gappy or the stems are wide, coppicing is more appropriate. Laying and coppicing rejuvenate trees beyond their natural lifespan (where trees mature and die; although some tall trees should be retained while laying/coppicing as dead wood is valuable for wildlife) by stimulating the emergence of new shoots. Laying and coppicing should only be carried out on healthy hedgerows that are growing vigorously.
Avoid use of pesticides, herbicides, or fertilisers (including slurry).
Chemical sprays and slurry have a negative effect on plant diversity and wildlife, counteracting the positive effect of less intensively managed hedgerows and wilder hedge margins. They reduce the health of wildlife and remove their food source, thus limiting their ability to recover from shocks and stressors and raise young.
Coppice and replant gappy hedges.
Consult a professional to decide whether your happy or ‘escaped’ hedge is suitable for coppicing. A mature or dying hedge is in itself a valuable resource for wildlife, with dead wood providing roosting cavities for bats and food for decomposers. While hedge laying retains the stem’s connection to the cut stump, in coppicing the entire stem is cut to just above ground level and the cut stump is allowed to re-grow. Coppicing is less skillful and much more invasive, entirely removing a usable habitat for most species for at least three years. For example, the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan recommends hedge laying as the preferred option because the hedge continues to flower and produce food whereas coppiced hedges may not flower for a number of years. Similarly to hedge laying, if coppicing is necessary, it should only be done on a cycle that does not affect more than 5% of your hedge each year. Since coppicing is usually used for hedgerows that are too gappy to be laid, it is usually combined with a lot of infill planting between the gaps. The stump itself will re-grow quickly due to the extensive root system already established underneath. It is advised to fence of coppiced areas in areas with a risk of overgrazing.
Sustainably Harvesting Hedgerows
Use wood from coppicing and laying for wildlife log piles and fuel.
Since coppicing and laying are done on a cycle where no more than 5% of the hedge is removed at a time, this produces a reliable, predictable and free annual source of firewood. It is important to cut and dry the wood until it is safe to burn indoors. It is also advised to use some of the woody material to make log piles, for example, in awkward corners or shrubby areas. The rotting wood benefits decomposers and provides a foraging and hiding spot for other wildlife.
Gather seeds, nuts and berries for propagating trees and making syrups, teas and preserves.
Hedgerows are a wonderful source of berries, nuts, and seeds. You can pick and eat blackberries straight from the brambles and collect rosehips rich in Vitamin C for tea or syrup. You can make gin out of sloes and elderflowers, jam out of wild pears, jelly out of crab apples, and syrup out of elderberries. It is a wonderful way to reconnect with nature and learn some new skills in the kitchen at the same time!
Leave plenty of nuts and berries on hedges as food for wildlife.
When foraging in hedgerows, make sure to leave enough for wildlife. The usual forager’s guide is to only take 1/3rd of what you see.