Guide to Cutting Hedgerows
Hedgerows mark boundaries, provide stock-proof barriers to keep farm and wild animals in or out of fields and in days gone by served as a source of firewood and ingredients for blackberry jam and sloe gin. Hedgerows also play a role in flood control and erosion, climate regulation, screening and noise reduction.
Of course, hedgerows are also tremendously important for wildlife. They are complex ecosystems and provide shelter, food and movement corridors for mammals, birds and insects. It is estimated that there are about 400,000km of hedgerows in the UK and of this about half are ancient or species-rich.
The Joint Nature Conservation Committee states: "Hedgerows are the most significant wildlife habitat over large stretches of lowland UK and are an essential refuge for a great many woodland and farmland plants and animals." But hedgerows need maintaining and it is up to the estate or land manager to decide how and when.
With good growing conditions, hedgerows quickly spread in size, reducing the amount of land available for food production, narrowing roadways, obscuring road signs and hiding footpaths and gates as well as crowding out smaller species such as primroses and violets. The invention of the tractor-mounted side-arm flail cutter 50 or so years ago revolutionised how hedgerows are maintained.
Hedgerow cutting regimes and tips
It is argued that cutting a hedgerow every two or three years rather than every year will save money but there are also environmental benefits. For starters, much hedging material flowers on year-old wood. Trimming annually may keep hedges bushy and compact, good for many breeding birds, but it takes away the capability of flowering and therefore, importantly, the production of fruits and nuts on which much wildlife relies for food. Some insects, notably the brown hairstreak butterfly, only lay their eggs on new growth. By not cutting too often, the hedgerow is able to support more breeding birds, although a few species such as yellow hammers prefer shorter growth and should be accommodated in areas where populations are high.
Annual cuts may be deemed necessary where hedge growth causes obstruction, denies passage or presents health and safety concerns. But in these instances, it is good practice to only cut the grass and plants at the base of the hedge every other or every third year because this area is important for ground-nesting birds as well as being a refuge for insects, butterflies and moths.
As with mowing, cutting a hedge less frequently may require stronger, more heavy-duty kit, although it depends on the species. It may also mean making several passes and cutting slowly. It is important that flails are kept in good condition and that the correct rotation and forward speeds are maintained so that thicker branches are not left ragged, bruised or with open wounds that invite infection. Raising the cutting height by 10cm each time a cut is made can help
The general rule is to cut hedgerows in January and February - after the birds and wildlife have taken the berries and nuts - but this is not always possible. There may be crops in the field or the ground may be too soft for the weight of tractor and equipment. The bird-breeding season should be avoided and for farmers and contractors it is illegal to cut hedgerows between 1 March and 31 August, although there is a campaign to bring in a risk-based approach during the month of August.
There is no shortage of equipment designed to appeal to landowners, estate managers, local authorities and contractors. Among the newest is the Siromer Hedge Cutter. Three different designs are available, the most suitable for you depends on the type of hedge you are cutting and the tractor you are fitting it to.
The Finger bar 160/175 is the lightest option with an impressive reach of 4.8m and the ability to cut left and right. Offering owners of 24hp tractors and upwards an affordable option, all Siromer hedge trimmers have their own hydraulic tank so there is no need to be concerned about the tractors hydraulic capacity as the hedge trimmer runs off the PTO at 540 rpm. The hedge trimmers are available with two sizes of head, either 160cm £2700 + vat or 175cm £2800 + vat
The Siromer U44 is suitable for compact tractors 24hp and upwards with a unique feature of having an interchangeable flail and finger bar head giving you ultimate versatility. The finger bar head is 130cm and there is an option of flail head either 80cm or 100cm. A great little machine with 2.5m cutting height and reversible flail direction. £3850 + vat buys you a machine that can suit changing requirements.
The largest of the Siromer Hedge trimmers model U90 requires a minimum of 90 hp available with electric or cable controls. This powerful hedge trimmer weighing 3500kg has a 5.2m reach and 1.3m flail head. The electric controlled version has an RRP of £7450 + vat and the cable controlled is £6850 + vat.
For more information on Siromer hedge cutters call 01253799029 or see www.siromer.co.uk
Hedge cutting: guide to best practice
- Where possible cut hedgerows every two or three years except where growth is likely to impede passage or cause health and safety concerns.
- If hedgerows have to be cut annually, then consider cutting the grass and plants at the base on a two or three-year programme.
- Try to cut in January or February, or in autumn if necessary.
- Do not cut in the nesting season (March to August).
- Allow the hedge to flower and fruit.
- Encourage thick basal vegetation.
- Do not cut all hedgerows in the same year.
- Avoid damaging the hedge by ensuring flails are in good condition and the correct rotor and forward speeds are maintained.
- Maintaining a diversity of hedge shapes and sizes will suit a wider range of wildlife.
- Vertical-sided hedges are less wildlife-friendly than those that have sloping sides.