Hedgerows are a vital part of the UK’s ecological infrastructure, benefitting many species of butterflies and moths, and thousands of other wildlife species in myriad ways. Kieran Thomas, Butterfly Conservation's Policy Advocate Officer, explains the policy changes we need to see to protect our hedgerows.

There are approximately a quarter of a million miles of hedgerows in the UK, a decrease of about 40% since the 1950s, and less than half of the remaining hedgerows are thought to be in good condition.

At Butterfly Conservation, we advocate for improvements in both the quantity and quality of hedgerows in the UK by supporting the creation of new hedgerows and protections for existing hedgerows, as well as advocating for better hedgerow management and regulation. We provide advice on creating and managing hedgerows in a way that maximise their benefit to butterflies and moths.


Most hedgerows across the UK benefit from some form of legal protection against removal. The most significant legislation in this respect is the Hedgerow Regulations (1997), which covers hedgerows in England and Wales. The Regulations protect hedgerows from removal, if they are deemed “important” based on a set of criteria, including whether they house certain important species – a full list of the criteria can be found here.

However, the Regulations are neither comprehensive or adequately ambitious; they do not cover enough hedgerows and the protection they do offer is not as robust as it could, or should, be. Recently, DEFRA have been seeking our views on how the Regulations could be improved. Here are our headline asks:

  • Remove the “age limit” on inclusion.
    Currently, only hedgerows over 30 years of age are covered under the Regulations, but hedgerows of any age can contribute to wildlife and wider society, especially if planted and managed in a nature-positive manner. Removing this age limit would provide some much-needed long-term assurances to newly created hedgerows.
  • Protect hedgerows, no matter where they are.
    The Hedgerow Regulations only apply to hedgerows on farmland, common land or forestry land. Hedgerows are precious ecosystem components, no matter where they are – for example, urban hedges are one of the main habitats of the White-letter Hairstreak, a Butterfly Conservation high priority species. 
  • Better protections for hedgerow wildlife.
    The current criteria relating to wildlife are limited and inflexible: only species on certain priority lists are deemed important enough to protect. Of course, all species are important in their own right, but asking for hedgerows to be protected if they contain any wildlife at all would probably be too hard a sell (after all, plants are wildlife too!). Therefore, we’ve asked for local authorities, who have to check hedgerows for “important” species under the Regulations, to be given more flexibility to decide what’s important in their area (eg locally rare species). 
  • Recognise the importance of wildlife corridors.
    Hedgerows act as corridors between different habitats for thousands of species, including many butterflies and moths. This is a vital ecological function, which deserves recognition in the “importance criteria”. Individual hedgerows that are shown to be significant corridors should be protected against removal
  • Introduce regulations elsewhere.
    Finally, we would love to see the introduction of similar legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland, so that all hedgerows across the UK have a level of legal protection.

When it comes to supporting wildlife, the condition, or quality, of individual hedgerows is the most decisive factor. There are several different components of hedgerow quality, most of which are found in the Hedgerow Survey Handbook. At Butterfly Conservation, our recent hedgerow policy work has focused on the size of hedgerows – we want to see hedgerows that are bigger and bushier, as these hedgerows can provide more food, more shelter, and more niches to accommodate more butterflies and moths.

Creating big, bushy hedgerows sounds like a simple ask – if you trim hedgerows less often, they’ll become bigger and bushier. But standing in the way of this seemingly simple solution are rules, regulations, and a misplaced obsession with neatness.

Hedgerows on farms have been the recent focus of our work. Many of the rules about trimming hedgerows on farms are found in schemes that pay farmers (or other land managers) for managing their land in a certain way.

These schemes have enormous power, because participants can miss out on funding if they don’t follow the rules. These schemes are devolved, which means each country of the UK has its own set.

Currently, most of the schemes around the UK have rules stating that hedgerows should be trimmed at least every three years. We need to flip this thinking and let our hedgerows bloom – we think hedgerows should be trimmed at most every three years. Not only would this be highly beneficial for butterflies, moths and other hedgerow wildlife, it would also save farmers and land managers time and money. You can apply this thinking to your garden hedge – let it grow! When it comes to trimming, “just a little trim” is the best approach for wildlife, rather than “grade 3 all over”. 

It’s not just what you trim that affects hedgerow wildlife, but when you trim. The greatest number of butterfly and moth species benefit from trimming as late in winter as possible. This gives more species time to complete their life cycle – for example, read about the Brown Hairstreak butterfly, a species that lays its eggs on hedgerows during the winter.

Current rules prohibit trimming during the summer, when birds are nesting, but offer no similar protections for butterflies, moths and other wildlife that nest during the autumn and early winter. We are seeking to change the rules so that trimming takes place in late winter instead, giving more of our butterflies and moths the time they need to complete their life cycles. 

Make your voice heard on hedgerows

We have a fantastic opportunity to make substantial, enduring change through policy. But to do so, the ‘whats’ of our asks need to be accompanied by ‘whys’ – politicians, policymakers, farmers and land managers need to understand why butterflies and moths are important and why our changes would benefit them.

Everyone has a role to play; everyone can be an advocate for butterflies and moths. By talking to friends, family and colleagues about butterflies, moths, and hedgerows, and sharing the information from this campaign, you can be a powerful advocate for butterfly and moth conservation.

Find out more about hedgerows and how important they are for butterflies and moths here.