Mechanical fails or rotary driven cutters are widely used by farmers and landowners and the majority of hedges will recover from this. When cut by this method the hedge will look severely beaten for a few weeks. When the new shoots do grow back they will form multiple shoots and then branch outwards rather than up.
Landowners using a reciprocating bar cutter to cut the hedges will often leave a neater cut on the hedge with less risk of infection to individual plants within the hedge.
By law landowners are required to trim hedges back if they are alongside public highways, footpaths or any public right of way if it is preventing ease of access or affecting safety of the highway user to drivers or pedestrians. The debris from cutting must also be cleared up afterwards.
Under Cross Compliance regulations, which most agricultural land is now under, the cutting of hedges is prohibited between 1st March and 31st July to prevent nesting birds and other wildlife being disturbed.
The cutting of standard trees within a hedgerow is up to the landowner. If they are in one of the agricultural schemes such as the Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) or Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) then there are rules and guidelines on hedgerow management. Ideal hedgerow management is not always easy to achieve. The ‘text book’ way to cut a hedge is to cut in an ‘A’ shape with a wide bottom and flat top to give good ground cover for nesting birds also to cut during the winter months to lessen disturbance to wildlife but this is not always possible for landowners.
The health of the mature trees is put at risk by infection when cut by flail mowers but the majority of them will survive. The longer outlook for them will be that they grow outwards and get incorporated into the hedge rather than grow up to be mature tress if the cutting continues. Without some form of management hedges will become gappy at the base and less attractive to certain wildlife species. Without the flail cutter it would be true that many more hedgerows would have been lost in the UK, as landowners would have grubbed far more out, prior to legislation which now restricts their complete removal.
Picture by Richard Brunton