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Taming the Greenery: A Guide to Jersey's Branchage Ritual

Taming the Greenery: A Guide to Jersey's Branchage Ritual

Monday 26 June 2023

Taming the Greenery: A Guide to Jersey's Branchage Ritual

MEDIA RELEASE: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not Bailiwick Express, and the text is reproduced exactly as supplied to us

Towards the end of June many of us undertake the first cut of the biannual branchage. The sounds of strimmers and hedge-trimmers fill the air creating a discordant symphony of mechanical whines and hums. Although this cacophony may disturb the rural tranquillity of our green lanes it is probably preferable to the beeps of our parking sensors and the scrape of metal on granite as we roll the dice on what may be a grass bank, or a hedgerow, or a granite wall, whilst we squeeze down the narrow lanes!

The "branchage" (which is a term derived from the French word for "branches") is very much a part of the yearly progress of life in Jersey.  It is an ancient Jersey law that mandates the trimming of any vegetation overhanging public roads and footpaths back to within certain limits.  For those inclined to specifics, an overhanging branch should not be lower than 12 feet (3.66 meters) over a road or 8 feet (2.44 meters) over a footpath.

Each Parish conducts "visites du branchage" to inspect their roads and footpaths and ensure compliance.  Parish officials tour their respective parishes, noting any hedges, flowers, or trees that have not been cut to the required height.  For those that have neglected to trim may be liable to parish fines.  This inspection can present as an odd spectacle: a small cluster of Parish officials inspecting the roads, armed with nothing but a measuring pole and a keen eye for any misbehaving foliage, pausing to check whether a leafy bough has been cut back correctly.

Beneath the amusing image  of the “visites du branchage”, and aside from the obvious purpose of the operation (to keep roads and footpaths open and available to Islanders), it is possible to find some deeper importance in the tradition.  I think it fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility, of working together to ensure that all can enjoy the Island's roads and footpaths.

The branchage only relates to vegetation bordering public roads and footpaths.  It does not apply to borders between neighbours.  Overgrowing vegetation is a significant source of neighbour disputes.  In Jersey, our laws regarding overhanging trees differ from those in the UK - we do not, for example, have the right to cut back overhanging trees or foliage without permission.  It is much better to seek to work cooperatively with our neighbours, to act in agreement, and ensure good relations are fostered and maintained.

We are all stewards of our Island's natural beauty, and by collectively (and responsibly) upholding the branchage, we each contribute to the preservation of Jersey's unique charm and picturesque landscapes.  While tending to vegetation, it is important to follow hedgerow and tree management guidance to preserve our flora and fauna.  Specific guidance and support can be found online on how to branchage responsibly to support flower seeding and protect insects, birds, hedgehogs and other animals.

Written by Michelle Leverington.


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