We have had a number of queries from clients with developmental and agricultural holdings in respect of the legality (or illegality) of cutting hedges during the “closed season”. The Wildlife Act 1976 (as amended) provides that it is illegal to cut hedges from the 1st March to the 31st August. This is for the very good reason that birds and wildlife tend to be nesting and active in the hedgerows during that time of the year.
Farmers and developers often note that it is very difficult, or even impossible to maintain hedges in fields during the winter. It is however worth noting that like so much of our statute book, nothing is as clear cut as it seems. In particular Section 40(2) of the Wildlife act provides for a number of exceptions:
(a) the destroying, in the ordinary course of agriculture or forestry, of any vegetation growing on or in any hedge or ditch;
(e) the clearance of vegetation in the course of road or other construction works or in the development or preparation of sites on which any building or other structure is intended to be provided
Notwithstanding this, it should not be assumed that landowners have a carte blanche to cut hedges during the closed season. A normal interpretation of the law would suggest any cutting should be proportionate, and other factors specific to the area may also come into play. A severe trimming of a mature hedge is not likely to be accepted as being done “in the ordinary course of agriculture”, while the wholescale clearance of vegetation on a site may also fall foul of the legislation.
Above all however we advise people to try and cut their hedges when safe and environmentally appropriate to do so, and to get specific legal advice if works need to be undertaken during the summer months.