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Hedgerows and ACRES requirements

15 September 2023
Type Media Article

Mary Roache, Teagasc Advisor, Westport.

The immense value of hedges on Irish farms is increasingly being recognised in legislation, conditionality and farm schemes. Of the 110 bird species regularly recorded during the breeding season in Ireland 55 use hedgerows and of these 35 species nest in the hedgerows. The season for hedge cutting opened on September 1st and will remain in place until its close on March 1st next year. Remember not to cut hedges below a height of 1.8m. Hedgerow removal is only permitted in exceptional cases and under certain conditions. If a hedgerow must be removed then under new CAP 2023 rules double the amount must be first planted elsewhere on the farm prior to any removal. Nationally we have over 689,000kms of hedges, however we are losing stock and some hedges are of low ecological quality. Approximately 5,000 farmers will plant 2,000km of new hedges under the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) this winter, adding to our extensive network of hedgerows.

Under the ACRES scheme there are three options relating to hedges:

1 Planting Hedges: Plant a minimum continuous length of 10m and a maximum of 750m for payment. Completion date is 31st March 2024 and payment is €5.29/m/year for 5 years. The new hedge must have 5 plants/m in a double staggered row with ideally a mix of species from the Department hedgerow list. Plants must be of Irish origin and have a plant passport. Plant in a 1.5m wide prepared strip and fence off from livestock. Any plants that fail will have to be replaced. As part of the hedgerow planting option farmers should leave one plant to mature into a tree every 50m or choose a tree species from the Department approved tree list to plant every 50m.

Department Approved Hedgerow species:

  • Blackthorn (Prunus spinose)
  • Dog Rose (Rosa canina)
  • Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus)
  • Hawthorn/Whitethorn (Crataegus monogyna)
  • Hazel (Corylus avellana)
  • Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
  • Spindle (Euonymous europaeus)
  • Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus)

2 Coppicing Hedgerows: Coppicing is a method of rejuvenating a hedgerow. Only internal farm hedges can be coppiced which have a minimum continuous length of 10m and maximum of 400m for payment. Work to be carried out between 1st September and end February, this action has to be completed by 31st December 2024. Mature trees are to be left untouched. Hedge stems should be cut a maximum of 10cm above ground level. A circular saw can bring down the height of the hedge but after that a chain saw can be used to cut the stump at an angle. Gaps must be infilled by planting with native plants. Grass and competing vegetation must be controlled and a fence at least 1m out from the coppiced hedge must be erected. Overtime, the coppiced hedgerow when well-managed, will support biodiversity, enhance the visual landscape and its lifespan will be extended.

3 Laying of Hedgerows: Many hedgerows that have been unmanaged for years lose vigour and offer low environmental benefit. The choosing of a suitable hedge for laying can increase the availability of blossoms and berries and also provide nest sites for birds. It also improves the structure of the hedge while extending its lifespan. As with coppicing the minimum continuous length is 10m and maximum of 400m for payment. Laying of the hedges must be carried out between 1st September and the end of February. This work must be completed by 31st December 2024.It is very important to note that the laying of hedges cannot be carried out using heavy machinery. Hedge laying is a skilled craft and often will require the help of a professional. Newly laid hedges must be protected from livestock with an appropriate fence and competing vegetation must be controlled. Guidance on the method to lay a hedge is available from the Department Specifications or your agricultural advisor.