When is a Row of Trees a Hedge?

Sometimes it’s interesting to see the internet searches that bring people to this blog. The above question was one of them yesterday. It’s a pretty hard question to answer precisely – I’ve got a whole chapter in the book called “What is a Hedge” and I still don’t claim to have the definitive answer, but here are a few quick thoughts.

Firstly, a hedge is traditionally a row of trees or woody shrubs that have been interlinked so as to form a boundary or barrier.

However this can’t be a precise definition. A hedgerow that has become gappy can still be called a hedge. And if I plant a row of trees on a bank or field boundary with the intention of laying them into a hedge, you could still call the row of trees a hedge, even though they are not interlinked.

My general theory is that a hedge is always the result of human intervention in the landscape – hedges can be grown (or early hedges were left on the edge of assarts, clearings in the wildwood), and managed as barriers, boundaries, screens or ornaments. The only kinds of hedge that aren’t intentionally created are fencerows, meaning the lines of vegetation that grow alongside barriers such as walls and fences because they are protected from the elements. But these are still caused by the creation of the original barrier.

In all these cases the hedge exists because of human action. A line of trees is a hedge if it is functioning as a hedge, is intended to become a hedge, was once intended to be a hedge, or grew alongside something else that was intended to function as a barrier or screen.

So I’d suggest that a hedge is never an entirely natural element, and can always be explained in terms of its use or intended use as a barrier, boundary, ornament or screen.


Filed under Historical Hedges, The Hedge Philosopher, Trees

2 responses to “When is a Row of Trees a Hedge?

  1. Michael Thornton

    is this definition accepted in planning law?

  2. That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer, one that takes up a whole chapter of my book without a single definitive answer. Hedgeline (http://freespace.virgin.net/clare.h/) is a good source if information on the legalities of hedges – it was founded by Michael Jones (http://www.hedgeman.com/) following the case Stanton v Jones, in which the judge defined a hedge as:

    “A number of woody plants, whether capable of growing into trees or not, which are so planted as to be in line and which, when mature, to be so integrated together as to form both a screen and a barrier”.

    He also made the point that a hedge need not represent or constitute the precise line of a boundary because hedges might be planted away from a boundary.

    To complicate matters, a recent DEFRA Hedgerow Survey Handbook gives an even more pedantic (and mildly conflicting) definition: “A hedgerow is defined as any boundary line of trees or shrubs over 20m long and less than 5m wide at the base, provided that at one time the trees or shrubs were more or less continuous. It includes an earth bank or wall only where such a feature occurs in association with a line of trees or shrubs. This includes ‘classic’ shrubby hedgerows, lines of trees, shrubby hedgerows with trees and very gappy hedgerows (where each shrubby section may be less than 20m long, but the gaps are less than 20m).”

    So maybe we have to accept that there is no perfect definition…

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