Life Cycle Management
The two most common causes of hedgerows falling out of good condition are ….
Continually cutting back to the same height will eventually result in a sparse growth with no cover for wildlife near ground level. Each individual bush is effectively under great stress and over time stems will die out, gaps will appear and it will take a great deal of work to restore anything like a hedge.
An over trimmed hedge
Before things get too bad, learn to read the early signs of over management. If your hedges starts to form thick ‘knuckles’ at the cut line, then its time to allow it to incrementally gain height. This way the hedge remains healthy and dense.
Knuckes form at constant cutting height
A neglected hedge
Seen above, a hedge which is not managed at all will thrive for many years, but will eventually become too large with a tendency to collapse or it will develop into a line of trees and lack many of the wildlife benefits of a dense bushy hedge. Rejuvenating an old tall hedge can be very difficult with the danger that the old stumps will simply not re grow
Hedge Management Scale
No hedge stays the same for ever. A hard cut, short hedge will start to fade away, and a tall hedge may eventually collapse or develop into a line of trees. Effectively every hedge goes through a life cycle, and good hedge management should recognize this. Very gradually a hedge should be allowed to grow upwards and outwards until the point at which rejuvenation by either coppicing or laying will be necessary to restart the cycle. Mechanical management (trimming) should prolong the time before such intervention is necessary but should cease if it starts to degrade the hedge. If managed successfully, coppicing or laying may only be necessary once every 40 or 50 years.
In the ideal world a healthy hedge should slowly develop between 3 and 7 on the management scale. The time it takes to develop through these stages is dependent on the management a hedge receives. A management plan will help to recognize at which stage your hedges are at and what action to take.
Nigel Adams has developed a life cycle management scale to help land managers be able to ‘read’ their hedges. It has been adopted by Natural England and is widely used when giving hedgerow advice and as good practice. The scale is reproduced here courtesy of Natural England and can be downloaded above.
What can happen with overtrimming and neglect.
This diagram clearly show the 2 different dynamics that slowly send a hedge to either end of the scale.