We are now in September and that means that farmers can cut hedgerows. However, it does not mean they have to be cut immediately, as they still have plenty of food and fruit for wildlife and pollinators.

It is also good to examine your hedgerows when the leaves have fallen off them, as you can decide on the quality of the hedge and what management might be needed to keep it in optimum condition.

The Irish Farmers Journal attended an event, which was aimed at contractors, in Gurteen Agricultural College last week for Teagasc Hedgerow Week.

People had travelled quite a distance to be there, from Sligo to Wexford to west Cork, and it was a very engaging morning where people shared ideas, experience and methods.

The hedgerow was trimmed in an “A” shape.Leaving it wide at the base allows more light in.

There are many contractors conscious of how to manage hedgerows properly, but they must do what the landowner tells them. On the other hand, some contractors are not aware and Catherine Keena of Teagasc stated: “Don’t assume the contractor knows best.”

Hedgerows on townland boundaries are about 2,000 years old and all other old hedges are approximately 200 years old. They are a massive part of our history, apart from being so beneficial for biodiversity, carbon storage, shelter and stock proofing for livestock.

Topped hedgerows

Topped hedgerows should be cut in an A shape. This lets light into the bottom of the hedge, allowing good growth at the base and also makes it more attractive for birds to nest.

The hedge should be no less than 1.5m in height, as birds will not nest in hedges below this height, as there is not sufficient cover above and below the nest. How high the hedge goes will depend on the machine being used to cut the hedge, but Catherine advised to cut about an inch above where the hedge was cut the previous year allowing the hedge grow as high as the hedgecutter can reach.

A bunch of thorn trees were left to allow one tree to grow up in to a tree with a canopy with fruit and flowers for pollinators and wildlife.

Leave a thorn tree

Farmers should aim to leave a thorn tree in every topped hedge. Whitethorns that grow in hedgerows want to grow up into a tree with a canopy and leaving one tree in every hedge can allow those trees to grow up with a canopy full of flowers and fruit.

You can leave more than one tree in a hedge, but try and do this gradually over a number of years, as trees of different ages are beneficial for biodiversity. If you leave too many trees in a row, you then have a row of trees and the hedgerow may not be as good in quality, so don’t leave them too close together.

Escaped hedges

Catherine explained that escaped hedges have not been cut in about 200 years.

Escaped hedges are hedges which were never topped and have grown a canopy, but are likely to be thin at the base. These hedgerows should not be topped, but can be side trimmed and will benefit from this as it will keep the hedge dense. The value of these hedges is in their canopy and they are a really valuable resource for biodiversity. Many farmers wonder should they fill the gaps. Catherine noted that fencing these hedges from livestock and allowing those gaps to fill naturally or allowing grass and wildflowers to grow is really valuable.