Hedges & Boundaries

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Hedges and boundaries

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Rural hedges
Rural Conventions
3 ft RH
Devon Bank
Administrative Boundaries and Property Boundaries
Hedges in urban areas
Trimming hedges
High hedges


Hedges in rural areas may be the subject of local conventions. These conventions have been developed over a very long period and can often be relied upon to establish the position of a boundary in relation to a hedge. The conventions that affect rural hedges are also applied to the Cornish hedge and the Devon bank.

Hedges in urban areas are not the subject of such conventions and it is far more difficult, often impossible, to use the hedge as a basis for establishing the position of a boundary.


Rural hedges

We have already seen on the Legal Presumptions page that, where there is a hedge planted on a bank with a ditch to the outer side of the hedge and bank, the hedge and ditch presumption holds that the boundary is to be found on the outer rim of the ditch. The drawing of it is worth repeating here.

In the example at right, Mr A would be responsible for maintennace of his own ditch which, although it is to Mr B's side of the hedge, is on Mr A's land.
We also saw on the Legal Presumptions page that a careful examination of the shape of the land can be used to rebut the hedge and ditch presumption.

In the example at left, whilst it may be difficult to establish where the legal boundary might be, we can be certain that it is not on the outer rim of the ditch.


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Rural Conventions

In rural communities it is the practice to plant a hedge (at least, those hedges planted on the edges of fields) at a small distance inside the boundary. This allows the hedge to broaden without encroaching onto a neighbour's land, and it may have been sufficient to allow access to the outer side of the hedge for trimming and maintenance.

The amount by which the hedge is set inside the boundary varies from parish to parish around the country. In some parishes it is 3 ft, in others 4 ft or 5 ft.

There is one place in which one might expect to find authoritative evidence of this convention and of the distance that applies in a particular parish. This place is the Public Records Office at Kew. Their web site gives the following information in relation to the records they hold.

The information in the Boundary Remark Books (OS 26) was derived from surveys along parish and other boundaries with the assistance of local inhabitants (called meresmen) who were familiar with the course of ancient boundaries. That information was subsequently transferred to the Boundary Sketch Maps (OS 27) for display in the parish concerned. Comments by members of the public are recorded in the Journals of Inspection (OS 29). In some areas, the information typically recorded in the Boundary Remark Books and the Boundary Sketch Maps was combined and entered on a single series of maps, known as Field Sketch Maps (OS 28). All these series of documents were discontinuexd in 1893.

Boundaries after 1893 are recorded on the Boundary Record Maps: OS 31

Correspondence on Scottish Boundaries is in OS 30

Further series dealing with the demarcation of boundaries are OS 24 (Union Files), OS 32 (Boundary Reports) and OS 33 (Six-Inch and 1:2,500 Revised Boundary Maps). ZOS 2 contains printed series of Administrative Area Diagrams.

The web page dealing with Series 0S 26 tells us:

This series consists of small books containing hand-drawn strip maps prepared by the Ordnance Survey to record original information on public boundaries under the provisions of the Ordnance Survey Act 1841. The books relate to English, Welsh and Scottish boundaries. The maps show boundary and related ground features and carry the signatures or marks of the meresmen for the parishes on each side of the boundary.

3 ft RH example
Whilst dealing witrh a case in West Sussex I was shown the 1872 surveyor's remarks book and the 1873 sketch map, both made at the time of the mereing of the parish boundary. The remarks book entry is a statement by one John Cousens to the effect that "The Owners of Hedges in the parish of Hunston generally claim three feet from the Stake." The modern Ordnance Survey map of the area (see below) still shows the parish boundary at 3 feet from the root of hedge. Some translation is needed here: whilst no-one seemed to know the definition for the term "stake" I have assumed that it means the stem of a hedgerow plant, and the statement would be translated into modern parlance as "landowners in Hunston parish claim to own three feet of land beyond the root of their boundary hedges".

[ In case some interpretation is needed of the three parallel lines in map extract above:
   the long dashed line is a footpath;
   the long solid line to the north of the footpath is the hedge in question;
   the second (and more northerly) solid line is the centre of a drain (stream);
   the row of dots is the parish boundary.
Although the boundary is mered at 3 feet from the Root of Hedge, it is actually plotted at 6 feet from the hedge (this is a pre-1974 imperial map not a metric map) in keeping with Ordnance Survey's principles on generalisation.]

Devon bank example

A second example, this one from south Devon in 1883, also taken from the meresman's notebook, is reproduced below.

In case of difficulty with the handwriting, it reads:

Property Right
The owners of hedges, banks, &c. claim three feet
space into the adjoining land, and they (the owners)
can appropriate this space for any
purposes they choose. Walls are however
as a rule built up to the extent of property.
John H Luscombe Meresman for Dartington

The boundary in question featured a Devon bank, so according to the information in the meresman's notebook, obtained from the Public Record Office, the boundary in this particular case is to be found at 3 feet outside of the Devon bank.


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Administrative Boundaries and Property Boundaries

The above two cases, from Hunston in West Sussex and from Dartington in Devon, amply demonstrate the relationship between administrative boundaries and property boundaries. This relationship is admitted by J R S Booth (in his book "Public Boundaries and Ordnance Survey 1840 - 1980", Ordnance Survey, Southampton 1980).

When the relationship is demonstrated on the Ordnance Survey map (as in the above example from Hunston in West Sussex) J B Harley tells us (in his book "Ordnance Survey Maps: a descriptive manual", Ordnance Survey, Southampton, 1975) that "the 1:1250 and 1:2500 maps carry a prima facie indication to a Court of Law that a boundary existed at the map position shown, at the time of survey or revision." This is discussed on the Using Ordnance Survey maps page. [ In my experience, surprisingly few lawyers, be they property litigation solicitors, barristers or judges, are aware of this.]

Given the above indication, if you are dealing with a hedge whose relationship to the property boundary is not explicitly stated in the deeds, then it may be tempting to search the Ordnance Survey maps of the area until you find the parish boundary, and then scan along the parish boundary until you come to a place at which the boundary is mered to a hedge. It seems reasonable to suppose that if that hedge is mered to "4 ft RH" (or "1.22 m RH" if the map is more modern and uses metric measures) then the root line of your hedge - being in the same parish - is also at 4 feet from the property boundary. But bear in mind:
   that there is no guarantee that the circumstances of your hedge are the same as those of the hedge that you have identified on the parish boundary;
   that whilst the Ordnance Survey map is evidence that a property boundary existed beside the hedge along the parish boundary, it is not evidence as to whether a property boundary even existed in the vicinity of your hedge let alone as to its relationship to your hedge.

Even when you are dealing with a hedge (or some other physical boundary feature) that stands along a parish (or other administrative area) boundary, the Ordnance Survey map is evidence of the existence of the property boundary only at the date on which the map was published. It is necessary to prove, through the subsequent conveyancing history, that the property boundary has not since moved away from the position in which it is evidenced on the Ordnance Survey map.


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Hedges in urban areas

There are no conventions governing the relationship between a hedge and a property boundary in an urban area.

The owner of a residential (or a commercial or industrial) property may plant a hedge on his own land in any position that he sees fit. If he chooses to plant a hedge as a physical boundary marker then the distance from the boundary at which he plants it is governed by his own knowledge (or lack of it) of the trees or shrubs that he selects. The distance from root of hedge to boundary will vary from garden to garden across town, and even in the same street.

If there is absolutely no other means of determining the position of the boundary and the only physical barrier along the boundary is a hedge then the argument of adverse possession may be made. This holds that each landowner has had exclusive possession and enjoyment of the land up to the root line of the hedge. If it can be established who owns the hedge (i.e. which landowner, or his predecessor in title, planted the hedge) then that landowner owns land up to and including the root line of the hedge and the neighbouring landowner owns up to the near side of the roots.

There is, however, one circumstance in which the conventions relating to rural hedges are carried forward into an urban setting. When a hedge is related to the property boundary between two fields and those fields are each sold to a different developer, the boundary between a property in the one development that abuts a property in the other development will be determined according to the rural conventions unless the conveyancing history of the new properties indicates otherwise. So in these circumstances it is quite possible for a hedge and ditch boundary to exist between two residential properties.


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Trimming hedges

Theoretically, you shouldn't trim your neighbour's hedge for fear of doing criminal damage to his property. However, your neighbour's hedge has no entitlement to occupy the air space above your land. This would appear to give you the right to alleviate the nuisance caused by the encroachment of your neighbour's hedge onto your land, allowing you to trim back its branches to the point at which they each cross the boundary.

Should you then return the trimmings to your neighbour, as they are his property? General practice is that you trim your side of the hedge and dispose of the trimmings yourself.

And what about the height of the hedge? Well, as it is your neighbour's hedge then he is entitled to decide to what height it grows. You may therefore trim only your side of his hedge and you may not reduce the height of the hedge.


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High hedges

High hedges have received a lot of attention in recent years. They may be dealt with under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003.

What constitutes a high hedge? Well, it is not a hedge that blocks the view from your house: sad to say but there is no right to a view under English law. If you want to preserve the view from your house then you must buy and own all of the land that you can see from your house in order to conserve your view.

A high hedge is a continuous barrier to light or access that rises to more than two metres above the ground and comprises a line of two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs. A complaint about a high hedge on neighbouring land must be made to the local authority (usually the district council) by the owner of a domestic property who can show "that his reasonable enjoyment of that property is being adversely affected by the height of a high hedge situated on land owned or occupied by another person".

The local authority may issue a notice to require the high hedge to be reduced to a suitable height, but they cannot order a hedge to be reduced to below 2 metres in height, nor can they order the removal of a hedge.


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