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The development of hedges over the centuries is preserved in their structure, the first hedges enclosed land for cereal crops during the Neolithic Age (4000–6000 years ago).The farms were of about 5 to 10 hectares (12 to 25 acres), with fields about 0.1 hectares (0.25 acres) for hand cultivation.The hedgerow is a fence, half earth, half hedge, the wall at the base is a dirt parapet that varies in thickness from one to four or more feet and in height from three to twelve feet.

The first two are particularly effective barriers to livestock.

Other shrubs and trees used include holly, beech, oak, ash, and willow; the last three can become very tall.

This work was funded by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) under project BD5301.

We are grateful to Richard Brand-Hardy (Defra), Emily Ledder (Natural England), Heather Robertson, Rob Wolton and Val Brown for their support and assistance and to Shaun Astbury for help with data handling.

The condition of herbaceous hedgerow vegetation is included in policy targets for biodiversity conservation, so a strategy is required for its restoration.

This vegetation can be highly variable, so a classification of the main types is required to set realistic objectives.Hedgerows are valuable habitats for biodiversity in farmed landscapes.The herbaceous vegetation at the hedge base is an important component of this habitat but its condition in Britain has deteriorated due to a combination of nutrient and pesticide contamination, and inappropriate management or neglect.Often they serve as windbreaks to improve conditions for the adjacent crops, as in bocage country.When clipped and maintained, hedges are also a simple form of topiary.Many other species are used, notably including beech and various nut and fruit trees.