10 July 2000
Government under pressure on hedges

By FWi staff

THE government is under pressure to tighten up legislation to protect hedgerows and extend new laws to cover field boundaries like walls and ditches.

A report by the House of Commons Environment Select Committee highlights what it describes as “shortcomings” in current countryside legislation.

MPs on the committee have called on ministers to make sure they fulfil a promise to introduce new laws to protect hedges before the next election.

The government pledged to strengthen the hedgerow regulations introduced in 1997. Conservationists have long argued that the rules should be extended.

That view has now been endorsed by the environment committee, which said it felt that all types of traditional field boundary merited equal protection in law.

“Hedges, banks, ditches, dykes and walls should all receive legal protection where they are identified as being important either nationally or locally for biodiversity (or other reasons),” says the MPs report on UK Biodiversity.

The report also welcomes a move to increase protection for 37 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which cover over 37% of the land area in England.

Although many people consider the areas to be equally important to national parks, they do not have the same statutory protection.

The government has said it intends to amend its Countryside and Rights of Way Bill to make sure this position is rectified.

A bill passed to the House of Lords and has now entered its committee stage.

However, the Ramblers Association has voiced fears that Conservative peers could table amendments which would ban access from land at night.

Walkers are worried that the Tories want to extend the period during which land may be closed and make any breach of the restrictions a criminal offence.