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Welcome news for hedgerow protection in England

The Tree Council

March 7, 2024

The Tree Council welcomes Defra’s announcement that new protections for English hedgerows will be brought into law, following the end of European cross compliance rules.

The government department consulted on retention of existing protections – including a two-metre buffer strip with no cultivation or application of pesticides or fertilisers, and a hedge cutting ban between March 1 and August 31 each year – and received overwhelming support for their maintenance.

In total, more than 95% of those 9,000 responses were in favour of keeping buffer strips, with 98% behind the cutting ban. Among farmers, support was also strong, with 82% and 85% respectively, in favour of protections.

Jess Allan, The Tree Council’s Science and Action Research Manager, said: “The Tree Council welcomes the news that protections will be continued – it’s reassuring to see such strong support for hedgerows.

“It’s crucial now that momentum is kept up, and the enforcement system is fit for purpose and well resourced.

“We will be consulting our Hedgelink members on the announcement to further influence government policy around this vital element of our rural and urban landscape.”

And while Defra’s announcement is welcome, the laws are yet to be rubber stamped and will “be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow said: “Hedgerows have long-shaped our beautiful countryside and provide homes for a huge variety of birds and wildlife, while delivering clear benefits for water, soil and the climate.

“Our consultation showed just how valued our hedgerows are by farmers, the public and environmental groups alike, and these regulations will mean we can all reap the benefits they bring for generations to come.”

Defra says farmers will be provided with advice to help them comply with requirements and the rules will support the efforts of many farmers already carrying out vital work to protect hedgerows; providing important ecological benefits including wildlife habitats, slowing soil erosion and water run-off, supporting crop pollinators and absorbing carbon.

Alongside the two metre buffer strips and spring/summer hedge cutting ban, the government will also introduce a streamlined notification process for farmers needing an exemption to cut or trim hedges in August if they are sowing oilseed rape or temporary grass.

The new requirements will be regulated by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) who will provide advice and guidance to help farmers comply with the regulations. Civil and criminal sanctions will also be introduced to enable the RPA to take appropriate and proportionate actions against anyone causing serious or repeated damage.

A consultation will be launched with farmers and environmental groups to inform the statutory guidance that will be used to enforce the regulations.

These new 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 Tree Council will consult with Hedgelink members on the announcement.



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