Help our hedgerows - The Evesham Observer

Help our hedgerows

Evesham Editorial 22nd May, 2024   0

England’s iconic hedgerows are home to some of our most vulnerable wildlife. We need to protect them.

DID YOU KNOW? England’s hedgerows would stretch almost ten times around the Earth if they were all lined up end to end.

Hedgerows are icons of the British countryside, and as well as supporting myriad species of wildlife (one study found over 2,000 species within an 85m stretch of hedge!), they are a huge asset to farmers and land managers too.

Top ten tips for a healthy hedge: Follow these tips for healthy, happy and wildlife-friendly hedges

They also offer services such as crop protection (through beneficial insects that predate crop pests), act as a wind shelter and host essential pollinator communities. For livestock they act as barriers whilst providing shade, shelter and browse. They can also provide income and benefit the environment by acting as carbon stores. They help to reduce flooding, soil erosion, air and water pollution levels too.

In fact, hedgerows have been part of the rural fabric of Britain since the Bronze Age, helping mark out boundaries and keeping in cattle.

Experts agree we still probably got more hedgerows in England than anywhere else in the world even though about half of our hedgerows were lost between the 1940s and 1990s due to intensive farming and development.

While the loss has slowed since the 1990s, neglect, damage and removal remain big threats. The government has promised to create or restore 48,000 km of hedgerows by 2037, and 72,000 km of hedgerows by 2050.

English hedgerows will soon be protected in law as the government sets out its plans for domestic hedgerow regulations, following a consultation last year.

Backed by over 95% of consultation responses, and providing continuity for farmers and land managers, the regulations 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.

A fairer, more proportionate enforcement approach focused on outcomes will also see farmers provided with advice to help them comply with requirements.

The regulations 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.

This includes over 90,000km of hedgerows 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:

Farmers have been protecting, planting and maintaining our hedgerows for centuries and I want to thank them for their continued efforts to help wildlife thrive on their farms alongside food production.

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.

Almost 9,000 consultation responses were received and highlighted clear support from farmers and environmental groups for hedgerows to be protected in law.

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.

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.

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

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 full government response and summary of responses has been published online.

Thinking of planting a native hedge? It could be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make, with benefits ranging from year-round beauty to boosting biodiversity.

The Royal Horticultural Society has some excellent tips about growing and caring for hedges here.

The Woodland Trust has some great advice about choosing the right native hedge plants.

If you’re a farmer or own land and you’re looking to plant hedges, the MOREhedges scheme can provide the trees, funding and expert advice you need to achieve your goals.

The scheme can cover up to 75% of the cost if you plant 100 metres or more of new hedging and allow a large tree to grow every six metres. They’ll also provide the trees, tree protection and expert advice to make your project a success. Find out if you are eligible here.





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