Hedgerow regulations to come into law

Environment and climate

Defra will continue to regulate hedgerows in England with proposals to continue many of the exemptions which were offered under cross compliance.

The legislation follows Defra’s consultation last year during which the NFU submitted a response.

Defra is opting for a continuation of two metre buffer strips, a reduction in red tape, and a cooperative approach to enforcement and sanctions.

Defra has reported that more than 95% of respondents supported plans to maintain a no-cutting period and hedgerow buffer strips.

The regulations, which Defra has said ‘will be introduced as a soon as Parliamentary time allows’, will include a two metre buffer strip from the centre of hedgerows, with no cultivation or application of pesticides or fertilisers, and a hedge cutting ban between 1 March and 31 August to protect nesting birds.

Defra is proposing that the RPA will continue its role as regulator with a default position of providing advice and guidance in the first instance, to help farmers comply with the regulations.

The government will put forward plans to introduce civil and criminal sanctions to enable the RPA to take appropriate and proportionate actions against anyone causing serious or repeated damage

A new ‘streamlined notification process’ has also been proposed for farmers needing an exemption to cut hedges in August if they are sowing oilseed rape or temporary grass which promises to replace the previous two-week waiting period. 

Balancing the needs to continue protecting hedgerows while producing food on farms is vital for our food security.”

NFU Vice President Rachel Hallos

This was a key NFU ask for if the exemption was to continue to be handled in this way.

Farmers will be required to notify the RPA in writing of their intention to sow in specific fields before planting, and document all works carried out.

Simple, fair and proportionate

NFU Vice President Rachel Hallos said it was “encouraging” to see that Defra had listened to farmers.

“Balancing the need to continue protecting hedgerows while producing food on farms is vital for our food security,” she added.

Currently, over 90,000km of hedgerows are being managed through 16,000 agreements in the government’s Countryside Stewardship and Sustainable Farming Incentive schemes, and more than 13,000km of hedgerows created or restored using Countryside Stewardship grants.

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “I am delighted that thousands of farmers are taking up the support and guidance on offer in our Countryside Stewardship and Sustainable Farming Incentive schemes.”

These regulations will sit alongside the existing Hedgerows Regulations 1997 which prohibit the removal of countryside hedgerows, or parts of them, without first seeking approval from the Local Planning Authority. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 meanwhile prohibits the killing, injuring or taking of wild birds, or taking or damaging their eggs and nests.

The government will launch a short consultation to help inform the statutory guidance used to enforce the regulations.

Rachel Hallos said the NFU will continue to work with Defra and the Rural Payments Agency as legislation is created and farmer and regulator guidance is developed.

“Essential to this is ensuring that farmers are supported with a simpler, fairer and more proportionate way to enforce this new legislation which works for all,” she added.

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