In Jersey we have to keep our roadside trees, hedges, banks and verges clear from obstructing the roads by 12 foot (3.7 m) and footpaths by 8 foot (2.4 m). This is inspected by Law twice a year during the 3 weeks following 24th June and 1st September on different dates in the various Parishes. An administrative penalty of £200 can be imposed by the Parishes' Roads Committees for any infringement. Safety on the roads and footpaths is of paramount importance, some of our lanes are very narrow, and in a wet Spring the vegetation can grow very fast, making walking, riding or even driving dangerous. We have lots of lanes where only one car can pass, even when the sides have been trimmed back.
In recent years, with increasing mechanisation (tractor and flail) of the cutting process, verges, hedges and banks have been damaged, bark taken off trees, roadside walls beneath the banks collapsing into the road with rainfall in the winter and most importantly the diversity of roadside plants has decreased, so that our lanes are no longer edged with beautiful wild flowers but are shaved to the bare earth so that only fast growing plants like brambles flourish.
We are working with other environmental organisations in the Island to try to change attitudes, to get everyone to relax a bit about how neat the verges, hedges and banks have to be - as with your garden, a bit of wildness benefits everything, plants, birds, insects, animals and us! As long as the requirements of the Branchage law are met at all times, not just before the Visites du Branchage.
If the height of the cut were raised then the diversity of low growing plants which are beneficial to insects and other wildlife could re-establish themselves and we would get back the beautiful lanes we remember from the past. The Department of the Environment recommend a minimum cut height of 4" or 10 cm. We would prefer it were higher where possible and still keep within the Branchage Law.
Linked to this is the problem for hedgehogs and presumably other wildlife (which does not get reported - apparently) when the outside of the hedges are cut at Branchage time, the insides of the hedges and field margins are also cut, even though this is not required under the Branchage Law. Inner margins of hedgerows should not be cut every year and never in the spring or summer. This may be why we had so many injured hedgehogs in 2018, over 30 were put to sleep in July because of strimmer injuries, mainly to their noses, which do not heal if the bones are damaged. We think it was due to the very hot weather when hedgehogs would have been just lying out in long grass at the edges of the fields, not curled up in a nest, as they would do in cooler temperatures.
There are Government schemes in the UK to encourage farmers to leave their field margins for wildlife and not to cut their hedges until later in the year when birds have stopped nesting. Here is the link to the Brirtish Hedgehog Society and Peoples' Trust for Endangered Species guidance leaflet for farmers and landowners on how to manage their land for hedgehogs, which will of course benefit other creatures and the environment itself:
back to strimmer awareness
Our Environment Department, National Trust for Jersey and the Societe Jersiaise produced a booklet on best practice for Hedgerow and Grass Verge management which contains guidelines which can be summarised as follows:
Carry out major pruning and hedge or branch cutting only between January to March to allow birds and animals to nest, keep nuts and berries in place and let plants set seed. They advise that only part of the inner hedgerow be cut each year in rotation so that each section is cut only every 2-3 years. So that any summer trimming of trees or hedges overhanging roads would be of leafy growth only to comply with the Branchage Law.
Cut vegetation to a minimum of 10cm (4") (which is of no benefit to hedgehogs they would still get slashed - which is why we asked for a height of 30cm) to leave roots in tact and allow vegetation to recover thus preventing soil erosion. Leave tussocks of grass for insects.
They recommend the use of hand tools or a strimmer rather than a tractor and flail. (However, we have seen that strimmers used without the area being checked beforehand, still causes injuries to hedgehogs). Which is why we ask everyone to check with a gloved hand, a boot, a stick or a rake before they start work.
They advise against the use of any herbicides which quite apart from harming wildlife can produce bare patches of soil which then erode away and can then fall into the road.
Hedgerows should be checked for nesting animals, rare plants and invasive species, which should be notified to the Department of the Environment. Rare plants should be marked off and only cut at the second branchage so they can set seed. Species mentioned are: Common Toadflax, Jersey Fern, Wild Strawberry and Orchids.
All cuttings should be removed and not allowed to build up on the bank or verge blocking the growth of new low growing (beneficial) plants. If this is not possible, they advise piling up cuttings at intervals along the bank at the base of young trees or shrubs to act as mulch, making sure they cannot fall into the road.
More information is available by contacting the Department of the Environment on 01534 441600 or the National Trust for Jersey on 01534 483193.
If you are a farmer, landowner or have a garden with a bank, verge or hedge on the roadside, please do everything you can to make our Island beautiful, abundant in wildlife and safe for hedgehogs.
See new Branchage guidelines 2019