With growing enthusiasm for rewilding, why do so many farmers feel the need to have tidy hedges and topped fields?

Written by Sue Evans, Director GWCT Cymru

2 Minute Read

Wales Blog 4

Despite the drive for rewilding in the UK, farmers still feel pressured to keep their hedges and fields neat and tidy.  It isn’t just farmers who feel this way - people who own small parcels of land, gardeners and even the local council are often compelled to keep their patch tidy. 

Last weekend I was reminded by someone who owns two fields that a perception of tidiness continues to override nature as a priority in managing land. They have a lovely field of wildflowers and a diverse mix of grasses all coming to a head, but when I suggested that rather than mowing it now they left it until everything has seeded, they were worried about their neighbour’s perception of it looking untidy. 

A couple of years ago we were asked to mow a small patch of hill ground, on the advice of a local conservation organisation. Having found the bodies of two slow worms and numerous other small creatures of interest I wondered why less than an acre of steep hillside ground would ever be considered as a meadow in need of mowing.  So many of these patches are not even relied upon for an income, nor are they used to produce food, yet there is a perception that they must be kept tidy. This mindset overrides any benefit to nature that could be provided.

There is so much enthusiasm for rewilding, which is going to result in the countryside getting a bit more ‘rough around the edges’ than we’re used to, yet on our doorsteps there is still peer pressure to have tidy ‘bowling green’ fields, paddocks and lawns.  How can we support each other and educate people to understand that what may be considered by some to be messy is actually a haven for biodiversity?

This week, there were calls for rewilding of royal land. Why can’t we have a little more small-scale rewilding - in our gardens, small patches of ground and on our farms?  A high, wide hedge with a few nettles, a wildflower meadow or lawn which goes to seed, or verges that are thick with a dense flora of cow parsley, cleavers and foxgloves could produce instant additional benefits to our wildlife. What is good for biodiversity is rarely to look tidy.

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Hedge cutting

at 16:07 on 11/06/2021 by Maxi Freeman

Great article. We have farmers here who cut hedges to the bare bone and flay everything else in sight. That's on top of taking out every single ash - whether or not it places any lives at risk- as well as some other trees ,all in the name of ash die back . The council even believes it can beat the disease by cutting down all the ashes anywhere in sight of a road. How can we get the message across that hedges provide a vital food source and safe place for birds and help mammals too and that wildlife is of far greater value than 'topiaried' hedges?

With growing enthusiasm for rewilding, why do so many farmers feel the need to have tidy hedges and topped fields?

at 15:01 on 11/06/2021 by David Whiting

Couldn't agree with you more Sue. Unfortunately landowners are discouraged by legislation (such as the Weeds Act 1959) from letting odd corners/field edges 'go' whilst financial support mechanisms such as BPS incentivise trimming field boundaries back and preventing scrub (IMHO one of the most undervalued habitats) from forming. I thus hope future laws and support helps landowners to create more habitat diversity within managed farmland.

Road verge

at 14:51 on 11/06/2021 by Paul Woolley

I have been trying to encourage more wild flowers in the grass verge by my 4 acre holding. I have been very carefully weeding out the strong grasses and leaving anything else to do its own thing. The council mowed the grass verges last week and i was chuffed to bits to see they had left my 25 yd verge only cutting about a foot width along the roadside. I have had a few comments from locals saying they now understand what i have been doing instead of being asked why i have not kept the grass cut and the hedges clipped!

a bit rough

at 14:01 on 11/06/2021 by Curt Gesch

My interest is in where ideas of beauty come from, in the assumptions that form our ideas of what nature "should" look like. I strongly agree with the writer who points out the problems of suburban gardeners keeping things so tidy that they deny a home to most birds, and a boon to a few. In my youth, golf courses had "real" rough and provided shelter and escape cover from many forms of wildlife. Now the "rough" is pretty darn smooth. . . and barren.


at 13:09 on 11/06/2021 by Nigel Gerke

Excellent article, I've spent the last 5 years reducing the mowing and maintenance on our 14 acre holding and noticed an increase in biodiversity with the bonus of an attractive environment to live in. How can 'scalped' or worse 'poisoned' grass possibly be better than a diverse meadow or hedge bank that only needs cutting once a year? It really is a change of mindset that is needed. I live in a very rural part of Wales and it seems to me that the driving force behind the excess tidiness is a social issue where you wouldn't want your neighbours to think you were lazy. Rewilding also suffers from an image problem where some farmers see it as a waste of useful land.


at 11:42 on 11/06/2021 by Alison Hiles

Farmers need to keep their hedges right or their purpose as a boundary is lost. This does not mean keeping them tidy but requires management (out of bird-breeding or feeding season, which they are mostly aware of). Much more damage is done by suburban gardeners, mowing lawns and pruning hedges and trees, removing 'weeds'. Some councils are aware of the value of their verges and do not keep them 'tidy', waiting until after seed-set to mow them and not keeping them 'tidily' short except where necessary for road safety reasons but others succumb to tidiness pressures from their residents, many of whom seem to prefer littering to allowing wildlife to survive!


at 10:33 on 11/06/2021 by Roger Smith

I have read your recent article ,with interest. I think that you are underestimating the benefits of well cut hedges providing secure nesting habitat for small birds .Thick hedges between 1.2 and 1.8 metre height give excellent protection against magpies etc .getting in. If hedges are let to go uncut then they are loose and small birds are open to easier predation. The biggest problem with ground nesting birds is the loss of eggs and nests to Badgers. Also so many hedges are roadside and if not maintained they leave the landowner open to road safety action.

Take the rough with the smooth

at 9:16 on 11/06/2021 by Simon Kibble

Great article an bang on right to the point. Over the last five years ive tried to encourage farmers who i know to let hedges go wild and leaving a rough field edge margin alongside. Its not been easy as the article states its a mindset change from whats always been done .Eventually the taking on of my ideal was to create a rotation of 1/3rd hedges left rough in rotation and the benefit of saving on labour time which was thrown in for good measure has taken off. The rotation allows for the hawthorn at least to carry berries having had two years of un cut growth on which to fruit so to speak. Bird life in these hedges has been fantastic ,in particular yellow hammers ,red linnets and chaffinches .Not to mention the moths which most people dont consider yet these provide a wealth of caterpillars to feed new hatchlings . As for local councils i have to praise nottingham city for leaving rough unmown verges to benefit wildlife and even diplayed a notice stating the reason,especially for bees on the dandelions early season forage. Hopefully more will "grasp the nettle " to coin a fraze and things will improve .

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