Under the Hedgerow Regulations 1997 (“the Regulations”) it is against the law to remove most countryside hedgerows without first obtaining permission from the local planning authority (“LPA”).
In particular, the Regulations apply to any hedgerow growing in, or adjacent to, any common land, protected land or land used for agriculture, forestry or the breeding or keeping of horses, ponies or donkeys if it has a continuous length of 20 metres or more, or if it has a continuous length of less than 20 metres and, at each end, meets (whether by intersection or junction) another hedgerow.
However the Regulations do not apply to any hedgerow growing within the curtilage of, or which marks the boundary of, the curtilage of your house – i.e., the land which immediately surrounds your house (your garden). This will of course be a matter of fact in each case.
If the Regulations apply, you (the landowner) must write to your LPA before removing any part of the hedgerow. The Regulations set out the standard form of notice that must be served on the LPA by the owner of the hedgerow and the information that must be provided. You will need to clearly identify the hedgerow you are proposing to remove on a plan, explain why you want to remove it, provide evidence that the hedge is less than 30 years old (e.g., by providing receipts of the plants, photographs or other relevant evidence) and state your interest in the land (i.e., whether you are the landowner, tenant or the relevant utility company eligible to remove it).
The LPA will have a period of 42 days to consider the application, and must let you know whether permission is granted before this period expires. Permission will be granted by the LPA unless the hedgerow falls within the definition of an “important hedgerow”, in which case the LPA are entitled to give a “hedgerow retention notice”.
A hedgerow will be classed as an “important hedgerow” if it has existed for 30 years or more, and if one or more of the criteria listed in Part II of Schedule 1 of the Regulations is satisfied. The criteria essentially identify hedgerows of particular archaeological, historical, wildlife or landscape value.
If the hedgerow is an “important hedgerow”, the LPA will decide if the circumstances justify its removal. Generally speaking, however, important hedgerows will be protected and permission will not be granted. However it is possible to appeal a hedgerow retention notice within 28 days to the Secretary of State, and the retention notice will set out the procedure for doing so.
If permission is granted (whether or not the hedgerow is “important”), the removal work must be carried out in accordance with any terms specified in the removal notice provided by the LPA, within two years of the date of the removal notice.
If you remove a hedgerow in contravention of the Regulations (either without first obtaining permission, or despite receiving a hedgerow retention notice) you will be guilty of an offence and may face an unlimited fine. You may also be ordered to reinstate the hedgerow, in which case the replacement hedgerow will then automatically become an “important hedgerow” for 30 years once it has been planted.
There are a number of “permitted works” set out in the Regulations whereby the LPA’s permission is not required before the hedgerow is removed. Essentially, the removal of a hedgerow is permitted if it is required for:
- making a new opening to replace an existing access to land, provided the existing opening is replanted within eight months;
- obtaining temporary access to land to assist in an emergency;
- obtaining access to land where another means of access is not available or is available only at disproportionate cost;
- the purposes of national defence;
- carrying out development for which planning permission has been granted or, in some cases, is deemed to have been granted;
- carrying out work under the relevant acts for the purpose of flood defence or land drainage;
- preventing the spread of, or ensuring the eradication of plant or tree pests notifiable under plan health legislation;
- the carrying out by the Secretary of State of his highway functions;
- carrying out any felling, lopping or cutting back required or permitted under the relevant act to prevent the obstruction of or interference with electric lines and plant or to prevent danger;
- the proper management of the hedgerow.
However these exceptions are complicated, and it is advisable that you contact the LPA before undertaking any removal works to ensure that you are not acting in contravention of the Regulations.