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Cutting & trimming hedges at the right time

We are now in August, and nature has taken on that slightly drunken, crazed look that comes with high summer and uncontrolled growth. Trees look dishevelled and haggard as the spring growth ends its sudden spurt, flowers and grasses are beaten about by the winds and rains of the warmer days when those great energetic storms are suddenly unleashed in blasts of lightning and a forceful downpour.

I’m a landscape gardener, and every year the excess growth of trees and hedges is easily apparent. I can’t fail to notice a young tree, especially those that have been cut back the year before, that suddenly sprouts new shoots and unfurls new leaves. These specimens are easily noticeable along pathways and country lanes, where local farmers manage their trees and hedges and maintain the pathways by cutting them back.

The same is true for gardens. In early June or late May I start to notice the home gardener, often on a short ladder, busily trimming the domestic hedge so that it can be enjoyed when the weather steadies and the barbecues are out in force. I understand the mentality: get the hard work out of the way early on so that the summer can be enjoyed. But I would like to urge a word of caution to these enthusiastic hedge trimmers: care should be taken as to when you cut the garden hedge.

The most important consideration to me, as someone who enjoys all aspects of the outdoor world and holds our precious countryside in unequalled esteem, is to be absolutely certain there are no nesting birds in the hedge. If there is, it is actually illegal to interfere with it, or even interfere with a bird building a nest, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.

The RHS has some guidance of this on their website. They say that the nesting season is a period that spans from the first of March to the end of July, but this, to my mind, is somewhat restrictive, as different birds lay at different times and when conditions are good they will have more than one brood. The charming Robin, for instance, can have up to four broods in a good year, and Blackbirds, in prosperous times, can have young in the nest well into August. Weather patterns can also postpone or advance the breeding season in many species.

But there is also the reason for caution when cutting hedges back. It is not just nesting birds that you should examine the hedge for. Last year, a gardener I know went straight through a wasp nest with his trimmer.

So as ever, when you are working in the garden, always take care to inform yourself of the potential dangers.

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