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Disputed Boundaries: The Hedge and Ditch Rule
- AuthorSarah Davies
The most useful summary of the hedge and ditch rule can be found in the ruling of Judge Lawrence in Vowles v Miller (1810).
“The rule about ditching is this. No man, making a ditch, can cut into his neighbour’s soil, but usually he cuts it to the very extremity of his own land: he is of course bound to throw the soil which he digs out, upon his own land; and often, if he likes it, he plants a hedge on top of it.”
So, where neighbouring properties are divided by a hedge and a ditch, it is presumed:
- The ditch was dug after the boundary was drawn.
- A landowner would cut the ditch at the extremity of their plot, throwing the soil onto their own land to create a bank for a hedge.
Parmer and others v Upton 
Those two presumptions were tested in the Court of Appeal in the above case. The Claimant owned agricultural land. When residential development began on neighbouring land he brought a trespass claim on the basis that those neighbours had encroached onto his land. A ditch had been dug along the disputed boundary - and a hedge had previously grown to the north west of that ditch.
At trial, the county court applied the hedge and ditch rule, deciding in the Claimant’s favour. The Defendant then appealed on various grounds, one of which was that the ditch was dug for drainage, not as a boundary feature.
The Court of Appeal didn’t accept that the ditch must be dug expressly to define a boundary. It recognised that it was common practice for farmers to dig ditches for practical use.
For this and other (fact specific) reasons, the Court dismissed the Defendant’s appeal, resolving the dispute in favour of the Claimant.
Consequences of the decision
The application of the hedge and ditch rule in this case is important since it confirms the approach the courts are likely to take when faced with similar disputes. This ruling helps neighbouring landowners to weigh the probable outcome if they take a dispute to Court. The ideal scenario is for neighbours to avoid litigation by reaching a compromise.
JCP Solicitors have an expert team who deal with an extensive range of boundary disputes. For more information please contact Director Sarah Davies on firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01792 529617