Hedgerow regulations to come into law

Legislation on future regulations has been laid before parliament, with proposals to continue many of the exemptions offered under cross compliance.

Following consultation last year, Defra is opting for a continuation of two metre buffer strips and a no-cutting period 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, will include a two metre buffer strip from the centre of hedgerows, with no cultivation or application of pesticides or fertilisers in most cases, and a no-cutting period between 1 March and 31 August to protect nesting birds.

Further measures
Defra is also proposing that the Rural Payments Agency 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 has put forward plans to introduce new 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.

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.

She said, “Hedgerows are a hugely important part of our agricultural heritage and history. Farmers and growers manage more than 402,000km of them across England and Wales in various forms and shapes, supporting biodiversity. Balancing the need to continue protecting hedgerows while producing food on farms is vital for our food security.”

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.

Key dates
If these regulations are agreed by parliament without delay, then it is important for farmers to be aware of the impact this will have.

Some regulations will come into force immediately, which means that from 1 July, these will be a legal requirement on farms. This will include a no-cutting period, which will continue from 1 July 2024 until 31 August 2024.

The rules regarding buffer strips will also be coming into effect immediately in certain cases.

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.

Support a practical, investable and inclusive narrative for land use.

Sign-up to receive our newsletter

Newsletter Signup
Contribute for just £2.50 per week
Skip to content