HEDGES IN WIRRAL
Hedgerow Regulations 1997: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1997/1160/made
These Regulations are not sufficiently known, and I suspect many landowners and tenants are not aware of their existence or disregard them as not relevant to their land. They do not cover garden hedges. Many local authorities do not have a suitable officer with knowledge and time to deal with any hedge removal applications that do come forward. Ideally this would be one job for a local authority ecologist. At one point we did act as referee for Ellesmere Port & Neston Council for hedge removal – we only ever dealt with one request!
While there are all sorts of qualifying points, we have mainly dealt with the ecological side. The main points we look for when surveying hedges are:
1. any rare animals or plants – not something we have found yet in Wirral. Regs section 6,2
2. qualifying numbers of woody species (section 7,1) in a 30m length. In practise this means surveying several 30m lengths as hedges vary along their length. The qualifying number is reduced if there are other features such as banks, standard trees, ditches, woodland ground flora alongside the hedge, a parallel hedge (e.g. a green lane like Landican Lane) or connections with other hedges, ponds or woodland. Usually we have found average 5-6 species per 30m length, but also other features like ditch, bank, parallel hedge that make up the points. Surveys need to be less than 5 years old to be used (10 years for some rarities).
The Regulations define qualifying woody species and woodland species. Woody species do not include climbers like bramble and honeysuckle, but do include wild roses. While most are native species, they do include one non-native (Walnut) – but not Sycamore. Attitudes to Sycamore have changed in recent years. Its merits have been better realised and some of its disadvantages found to be less severe in damper climates like ours than in eastern England where the initial work was done. Its bark is similar in character to Ash bark, and may provide a refuge for mosses and lichens that live on Ash trees as Ash Dieback Disease progresses. If the Regulations were revised now Sycamore might be included, but we have to work to what is set down.
DEFRA brought out a `Hedgerow Survey Handbook’ in 2007, which set out a (complicated) survey method, which we have simplified for use in the field, so we can gather enough data to judge whether a hedge is `Important’ under the Regulations without spending too long doing each hedge.
DEFRA envisaged big surveys across rural areas, or sampling hedges at random. Needless to say the money and website proposed to support this never materialised.
Local Wildlife Site designation
Since Wirral adopted the Cheshire Region criteria in 2017, we have been able to designate Important hedges as LWS. In fact we wrote the criteria for hedge LWS to be a little less stringent, and much simpler, than the Regulations. It says (H25) at least 4 woody species in a 20m length OR a high biodiversity value within the hedge and surrounding ground flora. Hedges may also qualify as part of wildlife corridors (H24). These criteria recognised that in rural Cheshire there are few species-rich hedges. A set of hedges near Landican Lane have been put forward by Wirral Wildlife as LWS. This set has recently been approved to go in the Local Plan. It is an `Alert’ LWS at present. The advantages of getting LWS status for the best of Wirral’s hedges include:
1. It registers them on the Planning Hazard maps, so they get picked up should a development application affect one.
2. Hopefully in future LWS will help farmers qualify for agricultural support monies under the forthcoming Environment Bill and new farm support structure.
3. The designation flags up the value of the hedges to the landowner (often these hedges are on tenanted land) and hopefully to a new tenant when the farm changes hands.
We do not now think either of DEFRAs approaches is the best way of finding Important hedges, and both presume substantial money and volunteer resources. We suggest:
1. Publicity about the Regulations, and invitations to landowners/managers to put forward hedges for survey. Some would be pleased at the extra protection to hedges they value. This could be extended to general public flagging up hedges next to Rights of Way and other public access land.
2. Lobby for an officer in the local authority to have the skills and time needed. Volunteer naturalists like Wirral Wildlife can help with the skills, but we do have limited time.
3. Teaming up with the Local History societies across Wirral to flag up historic areas e.g. old routes like Landican Lane. The dating of hedges by number of woody shrubs present is much more complicated than originally thought, and not accurate, but it is true that species-rich hedges are mostly older. So looking along and adjacent to old cart tracks, footpaths, quiet country roads where safe to do so, could yield possibilities. Also around old farmsteads and where field patterns are known to be old. Landowners/tenants in those areas could then be targeted with requests to visit. In spring and summer it is easy to spot likely hedges, so a walk-over of a farm with the land manager could soon pick out those worth a proper survey. In Wirral anything with guelder rose, crab apple, holly or hazel is well worth a look.
4. Some parishes in rural Cheshire have done their own surveys, using volunteers to find likely candidates and then more skilled volunteers to do the assessment. Some largely rural residents’ associations in Wirral might be interested in doing similar – tackling a small defined area is easier and they are more likely to know the farmers to get permission to do so.
Wirral historically is `Ancient Countryside’ on Oliver Rackham’s classification. It had little open field arable, but quite a lot of heathland/rough damp grassland/ other rough grazings that were enclosed relatively late, in the 19th century. These were usually planted with only hawthorn and are unlikely to qualify as important. Similarly roads that were built to serve 19th century and later infrastructures, like various Station Roads, are unlikely to have old hedges along them – but there will be exceptions no doubt.
Wirral Wildlife has done a few hedge surveys over the last 15 years, on farms where we happened to know the farmer and/ or were looking at other features such as ponds. Also a few along old tracks. Most are on private land, but ones that can be visited are:
Landican Lane, between Landican hamlet and the M53.
Fernyess Lane off Hadlow Road, Willaston, which has a good length of species-rich hedge and is proposed as a CW&C LWS.
County boundary hedge on footpath north of Willaston (Grid ref: SJ335790). A classic old parish boundary hedge (long before 1974), which has been made a CW&C LWS along with Street Hey Lane
17 June 2021