Hedge, Tree & Verge Maintenance

There are 12km of highway on St Mary’s which are bounded by a variety of hedgerows (including hedge banks) and verges.  These habitats form part of the living history of the islands landscape, highlighting the islands archaeological heritage, agricultural past and its inspiring biodiversity. 

These features not only create a rich mosaic of inter-connected wildlife habitats, but also help to prevent soil erosion, provide shelter for livestock as well as serving to protect the islands flower-farmers crops.  Sensitive and appropriate management is required to ensure their longevity, but management is also important for road safety.

Legal requirements

  • The Highways Act 1980 (Section 154) empowers the local authority, as the Highway Authority, to protect the safety of highway users by ensuring that owners and occupiers carry out their legal duties in respect

  • The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (Regulation 40) places an obligation on the local authority to consider biodiversity in all decision-making processes and; Regulation 9 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 states that all public bodies have due regard for biodiversity conservation when carrying out their functions. 

  • Many species are afforded protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 including bats and nesting birds.

  • Hedge, tree and verge management must therefore balance the needs of biodiversity with the safety of all highway users.


Who is responsible? 

The Landowner/Tenant is responsible for;

  • Trimming any hedge that directly abuts a road, footway, cycleway or public right of way so that growth does not prevent the passage or affect the safety of the highway user, including cyclists and pedestrians

  • Trimming roadside hedgerows to maintain visibility for road users, particularly at junctions and on the inside of bends

  • Trimming hedges and trees to ensure growth does not obscure the view of road signs.

  • Removing dead or decaying trees and other growth that may fall across the highway

  • Removing branches and other growth that may prevent the passage of high sided vehicles or obstruct light from a public lamp.

  • Ensuring the highway (including the footway and drainage features) is left clear of debris from the cutting operations (section 148, Highways Act 1980)​​


Protecting Biodiversity

Hedges and Trees

  • Where a hedge is set back from the edge of the road (after safety considerations have been taken into account) only cut on a two or three (or longer) cycle

  • If a hedge bordering a road has to be cut annually, consider cutting the top and the field side of the hedge every two or three years (or longer) to prevent long-term decline in hedge health

  • If a hedge bordering a road has to be cut annually, consider cutting the top and the field side of the hedge every two or three years (or longer) to prevent long-term decline in hedge health

  • Avoid cutting back the hedge to the same point.  Encouraging new shoots close to the base of the hedge helps to produce dense growth (to help with controlling livestock and improving wildlife value

  • Where a hedge has become over-mature, been abandoned or gaps are appearing the hedge lay or coppice, keeping some trees as standards

  • Do not remove hedgerow saplings, allow them to mature

Hedge banks and verges

  • Do not remove all vegetation, otherwise they might dry out or be vulnerable to frost, resulting in damage or loss of archaeological features or plant life.

  • Annual management of hedge banks is essential to prevent coarser vegetation becoming dominant. 

  • Removing the cuttings will curb the growth of more vigorous plants by reducing soil nutrient levels – compost the clippings.


Timings for maintenance

Hedges and Trees

Hedge and tree maintenance must take into account the ground conditions; land use, wildlife and highway safety.  Where road safety is not jeopardised it is recommended to undertake hedge and tree trimming in January and February for the following reasons:

  • It reduces the chance of disturbance to breeding birds and bats whose nests and roosting sites are afforded legal protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981

  • Most trees will have finished flowering and seeding

  • It is likely there will be less pedestrians and cyclists on the road

  • It allows the availability of berries and nuts for feeding birds and other wildlife for as long as possible during the winter

  • It is likely there will be less pedestrians and cyclists on the road

Verges and hedge banks (vertical earth or stone bank portion of hedgerow)

  • If you only cut once a year, then carry out between mid-August and the end of September.

  • If more cuts are required cut between mid-August and the end of September and once more before Christmas – or cut in early February and then again during September and October


  • Cut back in late August to late September after seeding and before winter rains return

Exceptions to these timings

Work can be carried out at any time of the year where any of the following apply:

  • At junctions where visibility is paramount

  • On the insides of bends to help highway users stay on their side of the road

  • Around lighting and road signs

  • On trees that have become a hazard to highway users

  • Where ferns and bracken are narrowing the road significantly


When to contact the Council

  • If a landowner/tenant wishes to fell, or prune trees with a diameter greater than 7.5cm at 1.5m above ground level

  • If a landowner/tenant requires a publicly maintained road to be closed to manage a hedgerow or tree(s).

  • If a landowner/tenant wishes to remove part of or a whole hedgerow.

  • If the landowner/tenant is concerned about road safety during which time they are working on the hedge. 



Always remember where possible:

Check for signs of nesting birds

Grow, Flower, Seed then Mow