There was largescale hedgerow removal after the second world war. In 1947 the Agriculture act was passed, with a political goal for food independence which rewarded farmers financially for removing their hedgerows. It’s thought we lost up to half of our hedgerows in this way over the coming decades.
In 1950 a Forestry Commission assessment concluded that we had 1million km of hedgerow. By 2007 this was down to 477,000km, a loss of about 52%.
This loss ended towards the end of the 20th century, and the total length of hedgerow stabilised. In fact, the 1990s seemed to bring welcome change for hedgerows. In 1992 it became illegal to burn the stubble in fields, a practice that damaged many a hedge, then in 1997 the Hedgerows Regulations Act offered hedges greater protections, making it an offence to remove most hedgerows without official permission. In some areas total hedgerow length began to increase as farmers began re-planting what was lost.
During the 1970s there was a huge loss of mature elm trees from Dutch Elm Disease. We lost around 60 million mature elm trees. Those that were trimmed as part of the hedgerow structure largely escaped and are still to be found in our hedges today.
The 20th Century brought large changes in the management of hedgerows. Mechanised trimming made it possible to cut all the hedges on a farm every year, reducing the number of hedges that get regularly layed, or managed on a life-cycle. Unfortunately, this has had an impact on the health of the remaining hedgerows, which can’t tolerate this sustained trimming regimen without (often imperceptibly) slow but steady deterioration in health and quality. Over-management and a complete lack of management are now among the biggest threats to the hedgerow network, as both ultimately end in hedgerow loss.
For information about the hedge lifecycle, and how this can help keep hedgerows healthy long term, please click here.
Hedge type: Modern hedge mixes being planted are often mixed species, planted on the flat, but hedges from all the previous eras are still represented. Hedge management change saw many hedges trimmed annually, but also many no longer being actively managed.
Hedge abundance: A loss of 52% in just over 50 years, in 2007 we had 477,000km