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When it comes to cutting down hedges, it’s one rule for farmers and another for everyone else, says Clodhopper. News is seldom good when... Hedge wars

When it comes to cutting down hedges, it’s one rule for farmers and another for everyone else, says Clodhopper.

News is seldom good when the phone keeps ringing. It often means there’s a big problem – especially when it happens at a busy time, such as harvest or autumn cultivations.

With new houses springing up, our village is attracting new homeowners. Some of them have been here less than a year. But they have already discovered  my phone number and mistakenly assume – somehow – that they are countryside experts.

The latest voicemail asked me why I was cutting down a hedge when it was bird nesting season. The anonymous caller kindly informed me I had been reported to the local council. In fact, it was a new homeowner who cut down the hedge to improve his view.

Yet residents decided it was my doing. The anonymous phone calls were followed by anonymous letters. The writers and senders were in no doubt I was the culprit. After all, that’s what farmers do, right?

From memory, when we were in stewardship, cutting down a hedge before September was a big no-no. Stewardship certainly meant no hedgecutting during the main breeding season for nesting birds – usually March to August.

Enforcement officer

It’s an offence to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird. So it wasn’t long before I received a visit from a local council official – accompanied by the tree enforcement officer.

Any landowner – and many farmers – reading this will appreciate how difficult it can be to establish who owns a roadside hedge. But the local parish council quickly decided it was my hedge and therefore the fault was definitely mine too.

After much discussion and boundary checking on my part, the parish council then reluctantly agreed that the hedge was most likely jointly owned by the council and myself – and that further inquiries should be directed at the new homeowner.

The tree enforcement officer made a number of other conclusions too. These included a distinct lack of evidence of any bird nests in the felled hedge – despite nests being present in the uncut hedge either side.

The species of toppled hedge was – in the opinion of the enforcement officer – not a protected species. Some mature hedgerows are indeed protected by law – but this would not normally apply to garden hedges.

Roots attached

The hedge had been cut down to ground level. Despite this, the stumps remained. This meant the roots were still attached and the hedge would grow back. And because the hedge was outside the new-build development, no action could be taken.

So to recap, farmers should be prepared to have the book thrown at them when it comes to cutting down hedges. But the contractor who cut down the hedge for the landowner wasn’t even reprimanded – despite failing to check on ownership.

The homeowner escaped without retribution too. Yet had I contacted the police to complain about the hedge being destroyed, they would have laughed at me for getting upset over a bit of greenery and a few clippings.

As farmers, we spend years and years and a considerable amount of money planting and restoring hedges. And for what exactly? Not much, it seems – and certainly very little thanks or appreciation.

The parish council – initially so keen to point the finger – are not going to take any further action against the tree surgeon or the homeowner. And in future it seems I will escape action too when cutting down hedges – so long as the roots are still attached.