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Last edited 08 Nov 2022
Hedging in the landscape
See also: Financial hedging.
This article refers hedges as barriers comprising closely-spaced shrubs or trees that demarcate an area of land. However, the term ‘hedge’ or ‘hedging’ can also refer to an investment made to mitigate against the potential price movements of an asset.
A hedge is called a ‘hedgerow’ when it has been established for several years and incorporates larger trees, separating fields from roads and as a boundary between fields. Trees in a hedgerow can reach their full mature heights and it is estimated there are around 1.8 million in the UK.
Hedges are considered important historical elements of the British landscape, as valuable to wildlife as they are to humans. They can also help prevent soil erosion and flooding and can reduce pollution.
Hedging has been used historically to:
- Create enclosure
- Demarcate boundaries
- Protect crops or livestock
- Act as a windbreak
- Provide shade
- Provide privacy
- Provide security
- As a design element
- Provide amusement (when they form mazes or in the form of topiary).
 Historical usage
Hedging was used as far back as Neolithic times (4000 BC – 2000 BC) to enclose land for cereal crops and was used as an element of landscape throughout the medieval age, right through to the 18th and 19th centuries when they were used to enclose heaths and uplands. Throughout these periods, hedges have also been a much-exploited source of firewood. It has been estimated that some hedgerows in the UK, Ireland and Low Countries may be as much as 800 years old.
In making the transition from low intensity to high-intensity farmed land, many hedgerows have been removed, thereby creating larger fields for mechanised farming and easier sowing and harvesting. With the advent of modern agricultural technology, hedgerow removal has been ongoing in the UK since the end of the first world war. This process has slowed in recent years, first, as cheap food imports have reduced the demand on British farming; second, as agricultural policy has thrown the spotlight on the environmental consequences of farming (damage to wildlife, flooding and soil erosion), encouraging hedgerow conservation and replanting.
The species used to form hedges are often a random mix although they can also comprise several or just one type. The majority of British hedging comprises hawthorn and blackthorn shrubs (both used to enclose livestock) and hazel, often in combination. Other species that can be used and which can grow to considerable heights include beech, holly, oak, willow and ash.
When contemplating a development, it is important to remember that trees in a hedgerow may be protected by a tree preservation order (TPO), or conservation area designation, but hedges generally are not afforded such protection under the law.
High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Environmental Statement, Glossary, abbreviations and references, published by the Department for Transport in 2022, defines an important hedgerow as: ‘A hedgerow that is at least 30 years old and meets criteria set out in the Hedgerow Regulations 1997 (includes both ecological and historic environment criteria).’
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