Many of us were brought up with the idea that hedges in our gardens, housing estate and apartment complexes needed to be kept as tidy as our sum copies (or at least as tidy as the teacher wanted them to be) when we were in primary school. This means that the temptation to get out their and trim hedges as soon as a leaf is out of place can be strong.
Our hedges and hedgerows are great places for biodiversity, especially if they include a mixture of native Irish bushes like whitethorn, blackthorn, holly, hazel, willow and beech among others. Dense hedges can be great places for birds to nest and also give shelter to small mammals like hedgehogs, as well as a variety of other native Irish insects, butterflies and bugs as well as fungi which thrive on the undisturbed living soil under hedges.
It is actually illegal to cut hedges between 1st March and 31st August every year under section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976. The department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage are responsible for prosecuting people, but it seems that the only way to report someone damaging nesting sites is to report it to the Gardai or the National Parks and Wildlife Service (you can get a link from Birdwatch Ireland here)
So when can we trim our unruly hedged, I hear you ask? The best time to trim hedges is to give them a light trim in late winter/early spring, just before the buds start forming. For evergreen hedges, this is also their dormant time when they are not growing. You can also cut back excess growth in early September, but check the variety of bush you have (according to hedging.ie). Box, which is the kind of regular decorative hedge that the victorians liked, should be trimmed in early September and early spring, but in all cases examine the hedge carefully for bird nests before getting stuck in.
If you are trimming in September, leave the ivy: the bees will need it for food in the autumn, as there is less plant nectar around for them.
Now that it is late winter early spring, I have to put together a plan to cut back my hedges in preparation for a bee and bird friendly 2023! I trimmed back my newly planted hazels in the autumn, but some of the others escaped being tidied up, so they will have to be done now, or neighbours won’t be able to get past!