Charles the Bald is recorded as complaining in 864, at a time when most official fortifications were constructed of wooden palisades, that some unauthorized men were constructing haies et fertés – tightly interwoven hedges of hawthorns.
In parts of Britain, early hedges were destroyed to make way for the manorial open-field system.
Many were replaced after the Enclosure Acts, then removed again during modern agricultural intensification, and now some are being replanted for wildlife.
A hedge may consist of a single species or several, typically mixed at random; in many newly planted British hedges, at least 60 per cent of the shrubs are hawthorn, blackthorn, and (in the southwest) hazel, alone or in combination.
The most common species are oak and ash, though in the past elm would also have been common, around 20 million elm trees, most of them hedgerow trees, were felled or died through Dutch elm disease in the late 1960s.Many hedgerows separating fields from lanes in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Low Countries are estimated to have been in existence for more than seven hundred years, originating in the medieval period.The root word of 'hedge' is much older: it appears in the Old English language, in German (Hecke), and Dutch (haag) to mean 'enclosure', as in the name of the Dutch city The Hague, or more formally 's Gravenhage, meaning The Count's hedge.Some hedges date from the Bronze and Iron Ages, 2000–4000 years ago, when traditional patterns of landscape became established.Others were built during the Medieval field rationalisations; more originated in the industrial boom of the 18th and 19th centuries, when heaths and uplands were enclosed.