Government seeks views to improve hedgerow protections

PLANS to better support farmers to protect hedgerows outside of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have been set out by government.

Hedgerows bring a wealth of environmental benefits, acting as wildlife corridors to help halt species decline, slowing soil erosion and water run-off, supporting crop pollinators for food production, and taking carbon out of the atmosphere.

A consultation, launched on June 28th, seeks views on how we can ensure hedgerows continue to get the right level of protection as we move away from cross compliance – the rules farmers have to comply with to receive direct payments under the CAP – and put in place new legislation tailored to the needs and best interests of English farmers.

The government says that “The new legislation will benefit from the increased flexibility we have outside of the Common Agricultural Policy to improve how farm regulations work so they are clearer, more proportionate and effective for farmers. This will be key to meeting the commitment in the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan to support farmers to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows by 2037 and 45,000 miles of hedgerows by 2050.”

Legislation will build on the action already being taken on hedgerows through the government’s environmental land management schemes which are supporting farmers to produce food sustainably while protecting and improving the environment.

It also comes alongside the government’s ambitions to identify and unlock new investment opportunities to support nature recovery in farming through the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund (NEIRF), including a pioneering carbon calculation tool created by the Allerton Research and Educational Trust to boost hedgerow protections.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Thérèse Coffey said “Hedgerows are a landmark of the British countryside, providing shelter and food for native species, taking carbon out of the atmosphere and reducing flooding.

“We are already enhancing hedgerows through our new farming schemes, and the consultation launched today will provide further legislative backing to make sure our hedgerows are better managed and protected in the future.”

Today’s announcement follows the launch of the 2023 Sustainable Farming Incentive earlier this month which includes new actions paying farmers to assess the condition of hedgerows and manage them in a way that will work for wildlife and improve biodiversity.

Farmers and land managers are also being supported to maintain and restore hedgerows through Countryside Stewardship. There are currently nearly 50,000 miles of hedgerows with one, or both sides managed under Countryside or Environmental Stewardship options and we’ve supported over 8,000 miles of hedgerow creation or restoration through Countryside Stewardship capital grants.

The consultation will run until 20 September and seeks views on the best way to maintain and improve existing protections, as well as on our approach to enforcement.

These include farmers maintaining a buffer strip alongside their hedgerows, and not cutting or trimming hedgerows during bird nesting and rearing season.

Combined, these measures will help achieve targets in the Environmental Improvement Plan to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows by 2037 and 45,000 miles of hedgerows by 2050, returning hedgerow lengths in England to 10% above the 1984 peak (360,000 miles).

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