Documents to download

Hedgerow regulations

Under the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 certain hedgerows are protected from removal if they meet certain characteristics.  The aim of the regulations was to address an ongoing loss of hedgerows. Some 19% of hedgerows were lost in England and 23% in Wales between 1984 and 1990.

The regulations protect hedgerows over 30 years old and which are over 20 metres long (or, if shorter than 20 metres, they meet another hedge at each end) and which have any feature that means they are deemed ‘important’. Such hedgerows may not be removed without the consent of the Local Planning Authority (LPA). Removing protected hedgerows without the LPA’s consent is criminal offence.

Farm support rules: cross compliance

There are two practices that can be particularly harmful to hedgerows:

  • Spreading agricultural chemicals right up to the foot of the hedge, and
  • heavy or badly timed cutting which leads to physical damage and reduces the benefits to wildlife.

Neither of these practices are explicitly prohibited by law.  However, until the end of 2023 they were restricted under the so-called ‘cross compliance’ rules of government farm funding schemes [PDF], including the Basic Payment Scheme  and Countryside Stewardship schemes. The rules specified standards that farmers had to meet in order to receive payments on environmental protection and the agricultural condition of land for example.  For hedgerows, the cross compliance requirements were that land managers had to keep a green cover on land within 2 metres of a hedge and were banned from cultivating or applying fertilisers or pesticides to land within 2 metres of the centre of a hedge. Hedges were not permitted to be cut or trimmed between 1 March and 31 August, with the aim of protecting nesting birds.

The government is changing the way in which it supports farmers now that the UK is no longer a member of the EU and has left the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Cross compliance rules ceased to apply to farm payments from 1 January 2024.

New farm support schemes

Defra is incorporating hedgerow management into its new approach to farm support, called environmental land management (ELM).

Under the Sustainable Farming Initiative (SFI) tier of ELM, farmers can now choose to be paid to undertake certain activities focused on improving hedgerows and hedgerow trees.

Under existing Countryside Stewardship schemes farmers could be paid for sustainable hedgerow management. These schemes are being developed to include payments for new actions, such as leaving hedgerows uncut for longer, under the new Countryside Stewardship Plus tier of ELM.

Future changes to regulations: Defra consultation

Existing legal protections under the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 remain, but the cross compliance requirements were not exactly the same as those set out in current law.  The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) consulted from June to September 2023 on extending existing Hedgerow Regulations to “protect the structure of hedgerows and prevent cutting during the bird-rearing season”.

The consultation said that quickest option would be to replicate cross compliance requirements in domestic law by making changes to the Hedgerows Regulations 1997, potentially followed by a second stage of “broader protections once we have a suitable legislative route”. A second option would be to consider new legal protections, requiring primary legislation that could come into force in 2025 at the earliest.

Stakeholder views

A number of environmental charities including the Wildlife Trusts have criticised the government for ending cross compliance rules and leaving a gap before any new rules are put in place during which farmers may decide to withdraw from beneficial practices, such as protecting hedgerows, required under the cross compliance framework.  The RSPB argued that this “could have a catastrophic impact upon iconic farmland species and called for the “gaps in protections to be filled and monitoring and enforcement to be stepped up”.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has said that it preferred an approach building on cross compliance rules because they provided “an adequate basis in balancing farming practicalities with environmental protection”.

Documents to download

Related posts