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Hedgerow planting in Denmark

Despite the great extension of agricultural land and farming tradition in Denmark, few formal agroforestry systems can be easily found. However, Denmark has a long tradition in hedgerow planting which has shaped and delineated Danish landscapes.

Hedgerow planting to protect crops from wind erosion has a long tradition in Denmark. Hedgerow structure, composition and purpose have evolved from the XIX century, when many of today’s hedgerows were established to state ownership boundaries and to increase agricultural productivity. Nowadays, hedgerows are key multifunctional landscape elements that enhance biodiversity and increase landscape diversity. Although the plantation of hedgerows is decreasing, still more than 500 km of hedgerows are planted every year.

In the mid of the XIX century, there was a strong need of agricultural land to provide food to the increasing population of Denmark and to compensate the loss of territory to Germany after the 1864 war. Western Jutland, which was dominated by heath, was reclaimed to agricultural land (1, 2). However, strong wind erosion and dominating sandy soils demanded shelterbelts for this new agricultural land. In 1866 the Land Development Service (DLDS) was established with the purpose to protect these farmlands (2, 3).

The DLDS is a private organization which was funded by subscriptions of members, donations and since 1880, shortly after its foundation, by the national government which quickly became the main source of funds. Until 1989, DLDS has been the main driver of hedgerow planting (today it is still responsible for 90% of hedgerows planting), holding the monopoly of distributing plants with subsidized prices, providing advisors and offering staff for hedgerow planting (Fig. 1).

                      Fig 1: DLDS distribution of plants                                                                      Fig 2: "Flying squads" - planting activities


Around the same time, local planting associations started to appear and in 1902 the Federation of Planting Associations (NBSP) was formed (2). Acting as a national coordinator and organized in regional associations, its purpose was to promote and advice groups of farmers on hedgerows planting and maintenance. The Federation of Planting Associations (today the Danish Planting Association) and the DLDS were strongly associated and together have been the main actors in the network of subsidized hedgerow planting in Denmark until nowadays (3, 4, Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Central actors in the network related to subsidised hedgerow planting in Denmark.

A good example of the collaboration between the national government and the hedgerows planting scheme were the so-called “Flying Squads”. In the 1920s, the collective hedgerow planting model became very popular. It consisted of groups of association members who decided to plant together in the same geographical area at the same time. To fight against the high unemployment rates, the government created the flying squads which carried out the planting work with the support of the Ministry of Social Affairs (financing the hand work) and the Ministry of Agriculture (financing the plant materials) (4, Figure 2). This led to the creation of over a hundred local planting associations under the umbrella of the Federation of Planting Associations. This collective hedgerow planting became the organization’s model for the next 3 decades (1).

The 1960s and 1970s showed a decline in the interest in hedgerow planting, also a consequence of reduced governmental support and increasing inflation (1, 2). This situation remained until the mid-final 1980s, when the entrance of the EU financial support supposed a revitalization of the hedgerow planting schemes.

The planting design of hedgerows did not vary too much until the 1960s and consisted mainly of one row of trees (Picea glauca and Picea sitchensis, often complemented with Sorbus intermedia (5)). However, after it became evident that these mono-specific hedgerows had a low permanence and stability, new hedgerow models were developed, taking the value of hedgerows for biodiversity and cultural landscape values into consideration (6).

In 1974, the EU Structural Fund started co-financing hedgerow planting and this push revitalized the hedgerow scheme. First, hedgerows were funded only on agricultural land with a risk of wind erosion in Western Jutland. In 1976 the first Hedgerow Planting act was implemented and financial support was extended to the whole of Denmark. Two different hedgerows planting schemes were established following the same model that was already running: individual and collective schemes, the latest one heavily favored because it supported not only the planting materials (like in the individual scheme), but also planting and maintenance costs for three years.


Fig. 4: Windbreak of five rows, 800 m long. Established withe a 20.000 kr (~2670€) grant from EM Dalgas Memorial in 2013.



The appearance of the EU co-funding implied a transition in the purpose and motivations for hedgerow planting. Although increasing farmland productivity was still the main objective of hedgerow planting, the 1988 act modification specified that hedgerow planting has also positive effects on the landscape. In 1993 the scheme was extended to include the financial support for woodlot planting connected to hedgerows to enhance nature and landscape, acknowledging the role of ecological corridors. Finally, in 2002, aesthetic values were added to the act, recognizing the multifunctional purpose of hedgerows. The individual and collective schemes were balanced, giving the same financial support to both of them (although collective plantings remain predominant).



Today, more recent hedgerows are usually shaped by 3 rows (but comprise sometimes up to 7-8 rows), combining deciduous trees and shrubs and not exceeding 10 meters of width. Its implementation has been extended from the outwash plains of Western Jutland to the whole country (figure 4, figure 5).

Fig. 5: Typical hedgerows plantings are 3 and 6 rowed. It is usually formed by native deciduous species.

In 2005, the ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries analyzed the current situation of the hedgerows scheme in Denmark with special focus on profitability and habitat enhancement values (5, 7) viagra vente en ligne. Their report highlighted the wider hedgerows (6-7 rows) as permanent habitat providers (although not economically beneficial due extra costs), while 3-4 rows were highlighted as green corridors and economically profitable.

The effects of hedgerows on Danish agricultural landscapes are palpable and are a success of a bottom-up approach in land use management. Wind erosion became a minor problem by reducing wind speed. By changing micro-climate, hedgerows increase temperature and crops yield. The current scheme which includes broader purposes has allowed hedgerows to define the landscape in the whole country, even in areas where wind erosion risk is not a problem.

Source: Mario Torralba Viorreta, Dep. of Geoscience and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, February 2015. Mario started his PhD on silvopastoral systems in May 2014 and is contributing to the Agforward project's WP7.



Picture Source: Det Danske Hedeselskab (Danish Land Development Service).

1.       Fritzbøger B. 1998. Det åbne lands kulturhistorie, DSR-Forlag, Copenhagen.

2.       Fritzbøger B. 2002. Bag hegnet. Historien om levende hegn i det danske landskab. Landsforeningen De danske Plantningsforeninger. Gullanders Bogtrykkeri A/S, Skjern.

3.       Busck A.G. 2003. Hedgerow planting analysed as a social system – interaction between farmers and other actors in Denmark. Journal of Environmental Management 68: 161–171.

4.       Knudsen H.S. 1983. Det flyvende korps. Fællesudvalget for Læplantning

5.       Busck A, Kristensen L.S and Primdah J. 2007. The Hedgerow Planting Scheme in Denmark - a case study of objectives, context, effects and implications. Anex III of Maximising the provision of public goods from future agri- 469 environmental schemes. Final Report of Project 15932. (Peterborough (UK): Land Use 470 Policy Group, 2007).

6.       Knudsen H, Vestergaard G. 2001. Levende hegn og små beplantninger. Landbrugsforlaget.

7.       Rapport om effektvurdering af læplantningsordningen. 2005. Direktoratet for Fødevareerhverv.