New legislation on hedgerow management comes into force

The Management of Hedgerows (England) Regulations 2024 has passed its final hurdle in parliament
The Management of Hedgerows (England) Regulations 2024 has passed its final hurdle in parliament

New legislation on hedgerow management has come into force, with many of the exemptions which were offered under cross compliance to continue.

Defra is opting for a continuation of two metre buffer strips and a no-cutting period, a reduction in red tape, and a cooperative approach to enforcement and sanctions.

The department has reported that more than 95% of respondents in its consultation, launched last year, supported plans to maintain a no-cutting period and hedgerow buffer strips.

The regulations 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.

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) 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.

A consultation on new civil and criminal sanctions to enable the RPA to take appropriate and proportionate actions against anyone causing serious or repeated damage will be held in ‘due course’.

A key change is the new ‘streamlined notification process’ for farmers needing an exemption to cut hedges in August if they are sowing oilseed rape or temporary grass, which replaces 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.

Responding to the new legislation, NFU vice president Rachel Hallos said it was 'encouraging' to see that the government had 'listened to farmers'.

“Hedgerows are an important part of our farming heritage with farmers taking great pride in managing hundreds of thousands of kilometres of them in various forms and shapes, supporting biodiversity,” she said.

“Balancing the need to continue protecting hedgerows while producing food on farms is vital for our food security.

“These new regulations will help support the proactive management of hedges in our farmed environment, allowing timely management via hedge laying, coppicing, nurturing and protecting of newly established hedges and maintaining earth banks where hedges are located on them.”

Ms Hallow added that the NFU will work to continue to ensure “that the simpler, fairer and more proportionate ways to enforce this new legislation works for all”.