Hedges. We love hedges. They form our boundaries making us feel protected, secure and not overlooked. They frame desirable views and shield unwanted views. They provide winter structure and a summer backdrop. They can provide summer shade. They filter and attenuate strong winds and perform infinitely better over their lifetime than a wooden fence with a lifespan of only 10 to 15 years. But hedges also provide a home for wildlife valuable to us humans and it is this important aspect that can be too easily overlooked.
All too often in mid summer I see neighbours cutting great swathes of hedging. Local farmers and municipal maintenance guys, who really ought to know better, have been at it with abandon too (don’t even get me started on the regular hacking of the countryside road verges, destroying wild foraging sources & orchid and wildflower habitats, which they seem to do for no good reason other than to give them something to do). I have received hedge cutting requests from clients who won’t take no for an answer when I tell them I refuse to cut their hedges after early March and before September.
Former UK residents will be familiar with the RSPB’s advice in regards to hedge cutting and the Frenchies should be equally so with what the French equivalent, the LPO, has to say on the matter. Nevertheless, everyone’s at it during the summer months here, and brazenly so.
Birds. We love birds. They are beautiful to look at, sure, but birds are important to gardeners and nature because they do a damn fine job of pest control. Around the world birds eat between 400 and 500 million tons of insects each year. We’d be inundated (more so than we already are in the countryside) with flies and mosquitos without them.
And that’s not even to mention the job of slug and snail control that they do for us too. In an age where we are trying to wean ourselves from overuse of chemicals harmful to human health – slug pellets commonly contain metaldehyde – recklessly (innocently or otherwise) harming our natural pest controls is just plain stupid.
Birds are one of nature’s waste disposal services. Corvids and birds of prey can often be seen clearing carrion from our roads and fields, often arriving before other species such as foxes or rats. Without birds intervening before other species arrive on the scene deadly diseases such as rabies and tuberculosis might be allowed to proliferate through these other species.
Like bees, birds are also pollinators. They also spread seeds that grow into new plants useful to other pollinators we also rely upon, such as bees and wasps.
I often see comments on Facebook and Twitter stating it is a crime to cut hedges between March and August. This is something that I think is often misunderstood.
It is not the cutting of a hedge per se that is the crime. One is at liberty to cut hedges at any time of the year. The caveat is that it is a crime to disturb, damage, or destroy an active bird nest, which can happen when doing so and attracts a penalty of between 1,500 euros and 15,000 euros, plus up to a year imprisonment. So in theory one might cut their hedge in June and provided there is no nest within that has been damaged or disturbed there has been no crime committed. The hedge is nice and tidy, no crime has been committed and the birds are happy and live to fight another day.
But doing so means not only taking significant risk to your pocket and liberty, but at significant risk to the birds and their offspring as well. Birds typically nest in shrubs and hedges between March and August, which dramatically increases your chances of disturbing or damaging an active nest. This is one of the reasons why it is advised to refrain from hedge cutting during this period.
The law is a little more nuanced than I have described above, but in its simplest form – to keep this article relatively succinct – that’s the main thrust of it. The law is clearly very poorly enforced, which is how farmers and gardeners alike have the confidence to overenthuasiastically prune metres upon metres of hedging midsummer in broad daylight.
Regardless of whether one might get caught by the fuzz gardeners and farmers ought to be working to enhance nature, not seemingly go out of their way to destroy it.