Creating a hedge management plan
What are we aiming for across our hedgerow networks?
All hedgerows need to be managed on a cycle if they are to be able to survive in the long term. And this cycle must include rejuvenation, periodically, to reset the hedge cycle as the hedge shrubs mature.
Staggering this management cycle across the hedges of a farm, so that there are always hedges at the different stages, has a number of benefits both practical benefits to us as land managers and to wildlife.
This approach means every farm, at any one time, will have hedgerows of differing heights. There will always be some hedges recently cut, some uncut, some in non-intervention periods and some being let up for rejuvenation.
For wildlife: This gives the widest availability of different hedgerow habitats for wildlife, many of which have different hedge preferences, and also ensures there is never one year where every hedge is cut, so ensuring there is always some blossom and fruit.
For land managers: For those managing these hedges, it means the work associated with cutting and rejuvenating hedges is spread out across the years and you will never have to cut or rejuvenate too many hedges in any one year. It also means any wood-fuel you extract when coppicing or laying is supplied with more regularity, as is the work for the hedgelayer you contract, if you aren’t rejuvenating these hedges yourselves.
To do this, it can be helpful to assess the hedges on a farm and draw up a rough management plan for them.
Creating a farm-scale hedge management plan
Whilst every hedgerow management plan can be kept flexible to accommodate inevitable changes, a farm scale hedgerow plan can help you create and maintain healthy hedgerows across the farm, with a diversity of structures represented at all times.
Our Healthy Hedgerows app has been designed to give a rapid assessment of each hedge, in just 6 questions and returns management options based on the life stage the hedge is in. But from here, the management advice for individual hedges needs to be put together to form a farm scale plan. There is no algorithm that can neatly do this to also accommodate the complexities of your farming priorities, account for regional landscape character, or all your other on-farm practical considerations. There is no, and can never be, a one size fits all approach to this. Instead we hope to provide advice about how you might turn your individual hedge advice into a farm scale plan taking account of your own specific circumstances.
Over the coming year we will be creating some case studies to demonstrate how others have created their own farm scale management plans for hedgerows, which we will publish here. In the meantime, below are some of the basic principles for considering hedgerow management at a network level.
Basic principles managing your hedges as a farm scale network
- Aim to stagger the hedges on your farm across the hedge management cycle so there is always hedges of varying heights; some cut, some uncut, and some ready for rejuvenation.
- Try to rejuvenate at least one hedgerow (laying or coppicing) each year to spread the cost and labour.
- Whenever coppicing or laying one hedge, aim to:
- Let up another hedge on the farm, either into a period of non-intervention or if there are any trimmed hedges starting to thin at the base, let one of these up for laying in a couple of years time.
- Leave the hedges either side of the rejuvenated hedge uncut that year, accommodating for the reduction (albeit temporary) in blossom, berries and nesting opportunity associated with rejuvenation.
- Don’t rejuvenate more than 5% of your hedge network in any one year.
- Planting up gaps and new hedge trees is best done when a hedge is being rejuvenated. If this is not likely in the coming years, it can be beneficial to coppice a short stretch of hedgerow either side of the gap when planting up to reduce light competition.
- To increase the number of trees in a hedge without planting, find suitable young trees in the hedge and mark them to spare them from the trim, or retain suitable individuals when you next coppice of lay your hedge.
Using Healthy Hedgerows results to create a farm scale management plan
Over the coming year we will be creating some case studies to demonstrate how others have created their own farm scale management plans for hedgerows, which we will publish here.