How big should hedges be?

I often get correspondence about hedges.  Sometimes it is requested that the Council ensures that property owners do some pruning to avoid obstructing the pavement – as with the example pictured.

But there is controversy as to how much pruning should take place. Sometimes it is the Council that owns the hedge. I have already noted the comments from the Biodiversity Commission about street trees.

This is what they say about hedges:

“Shrubs are being over-pruned and rubbish-laden compost strewn too heavily under trees and shrubs to reduce maintenance, causing the death of some shrubs. Often there is no budget to replace these shrubs and, when there is, there is reluctance to plant as it means additional maintenance. Regulation has also gone too far – shrubs/ hedges have been emasculated in order to reduce anti-social behaviour but the balance is not right. There are virtually no intact hedges in parks or gardens of council housing estates and similarly few shrubs above chest level height. This, coupled with the loss of garden space discussed in 3.2, has resulted in a very severe decline in habitat area and variety in the Borough and has contributed to the fall in small bird populations in inner London.”

The Parks Manager responds as follows

“The Biodiversity Commission have looked at the maintenance of hedges from purely ecological/biodiversity perspective, which is to let hedges flourish with only minor pruning.  Hedges at the moment are pruned in accordance with horticultural practice but also often to minimise anti-social behaviour (referenced in the report).

“There is also an aesthetic factor as well in how we manage hedges; ones managed for biodiversity will tend to have a ‘wilder’ look.  That said, there is no reason why a compromise cannot be met and as a team we’re looking forward to working with the commission and improving biodiversity in parks and cemeteries.  Any changes in management practice will need to be coupled with a level of education explaining the benefits.”

So far as the council estates are concerned the Head of Estate Services says:

“We believe that we have struck the right balance between the need for shrubs and hedges that are attractive and flourishing, and the needs for clear lines of sight for CCTV, and the avoidance of blind spots that facilitate antisocial behaviour.  We manage these issues on a case by case basis on our housing estates, relying on advice from the Police, and the local knowledge of residents. Any walkaround of our estates would demonstrate that they are full of greenery and flourishing hedges, managed in a sensitive manner. Our supplier of gardening services, Idverde, are fully aware of this approach and do not cut hedges or shrubs in the nesting season, or when they are flowering. They are also using an innovative form of hot foam weeding to avoid the use of over 100 litres of potential toxic chemicals.

“This specific activity is set within the context of our Greening Strategy which itemises our plans to encourage bio-diversity through our choices of plants, and establishes our strong approach to protecting the green tree canopy through sympathetic pruning, replacement of dead trees, and through significant additional planting. We have planted over 750 trees in the last three years, of which over 150 have been on our estates.”

So we are all agreed that there should be a balance. The only question is what the right balance is. In a way perhaps sending in photographs of examples of where it has gone wrong might inform the Council of how to improve and allow a reasoned consensus to emerge.

By the way cutting hedges and trees should be avoided between March and August as this is the main breeding season for nesting birds.

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