Hedgerows (March 2023)

"Thank you for contacting me about hedgerows. I am pleased to be a 'Hedgerows Champion' in Parliament!

 

Hedgerows are one of the most important ecological building blocks in our farmed landscape. They maintain the distinctive character of our countryside and provide crucial habitats and food for wildlife. Hedgerows can store carbon, improve local air quality and benefit the rural economy by boosting job creation for hedgerow planting and management in local communities.

 

Protection of hedgerows is a key component of the Government’s Environmental Land Management Schemes. Through the Countryside Stewardship schemes, Ministers are supporting farmers to maintain and restore over 10,000km of existing hedgerows while planting an additional 4,000km across the nation. I understand that as of January 2024, there were around 35,000 Countryside Stewardship agreements. 

 

Further, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra's) new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) hedgerow standard will pay farmers to assess the condition of hedgerows and manage them in a way that will work for wildlife and improve biodiversity. I am pleased that SFI payments were increased by 10 per cent at the beginning of this year, providing more money for farmers deliver change. 

 

I am assured that this increased support for farmers will result in the creation of more hedgerows and flower-rich grass areas on the edge of fields. This will help the UK to meet its environment targets and contribute to the UK’s aim of halting biodiversity loss by 2030.

I am aware that cross compliance rules ended at the end of last year. This is because gaps between cross compliance rules and regulatory requirements are already covered by existing and ongoing strong domestic legal framework, such as through generalised provisions in Farming Rules for Water and the Water Resources Act, guidance like the Code of Practice for the use of Plant Protection Products, and standards in the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme. As a result of these, my Defra colleagues do not believe farmers will lower standards and there will not be significant negative environmental impacts in these areas. 

 

Following a Defra consultation on how best to maintain and improve existing protections for hedgerows, the Government has set out plans for domestic hedgerow regulations. 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. 

 

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.

 

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Sally-Ann Hart MP.”