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Progress on protecting rural hedgerows in England

As reported previously, the government has been developing plans to reinstate protections for rural hedgerows in England, which lapsed following the post-Brexit phase-out of European farming policy. Pleasingly, following strong support from a wide range of stakeholders, new regulations have been prepared and were laid in parliament in mid-April. Read on for a summary of the latest progress.

What do the regulations cover?

The new regulations seek to put basic hedgerow management practices into law; the requirements will be familiar to any farmer or landowner that previously received payments under the Basic Payments Scheme.

The rules will include:

  • Requirement that a 2-metre buffer strip, measured from the centre of a hedgerow, is established, and maintained. No cultivation, or application of fertilisers or pesticides should take place within the buffer strip.
  • A hedgerow cutting ban from 1 March to 31 August.

These rules are designed to prevent harm to the structure and health of hedgerows and ensure that they remain valuable assets for wildlife and the environment.

While the rules are generally consistent with previous requirements, if agreed by parliament, they will apply to all agricultural land, rather than only where Basic Payments were received. However, there are some proposed exemptions, and it is recommended that any farmer or landowner refers to the detail in the draft regulations. There is also advice available from sector organisations, such as the NFU. Further guidance will be made available by the government, which should help landowners understand how the rules will affect them.

For clarity, the new regulations cover the management of hedgerows. The removal of hedgerows is regulated by local planning authorities separately under the Hedgerow Regulations 1997, to which there is currently no proposed change.

How will the rules be enforced?

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will be the regulator for the new hedgerow management regulations. Guidance about the rules and enforcement will be consulted on and published in due course, and this will be communicated to key stakeholders. The RPA currently intend to follow an ‘advice-led’ approach, and will seek to be fair and proportionate, but there will also be a range of sanctions that they can use in cases of non-compliance. Further detail should also be forthcoming on any plans for monitoring and reporting – for example, questions remain about whether there will be proactive inspections and if not, how possible breaches of the rules would be identified.

When would they come into force?

If agreed by parliament, the regulations will come into force immediately, reflecting a sense of urgency to bring back these important rules.

We hope that the pace is kept up and that the regulations go smoothly through parliamentary processes. We will keep close watch on this important policy area and provide further updates!