Frustrated farm contractors are losing tens of thousands of pounds in income due to the extended hedgecutting ban this August.
Defra’s decision to lengthen the hedge-trimming ban until 1 September under EU legislation “to protect nesting birds” has provoked an angry reaction in the industry.
Normally, farm contractors would be following the combines round this month and trimming hedges around arable land.
But hedgecutting around fields where oilseed rape or temporary grass is being drilled is now banned in August – unless a Defra derogation has been obtained.
Northamptonshire farm contractor Bob Rutt said the ban, enforced in 2015, would result in £8,000 of lost income this year.
“It’s just ridiculous to expect us to sit around doing nothing when the sun is shining and you can get on the land,” said Mr Rutt.
“No doubt when September comes it will rain like mad and we won’t be able do anything.
“The ban just doesn’t make sense. Most of the birds have finished nesting now, apart from wood pigeons, which to my mind are vermin.”
MP urges review
Mr Rutt has raised his plight and that of hundreds of other farm contractors around the country with his local MP, Tom Pursglove.
“At the moment, landowners with grassland that they are not claiming subsidy on can cut their hedges in August. The same applies for golf courses, woodland and local authority parks, but not on arable land. Why?” asked Mr Rutt.
“The birds don’t know the difference. The RSPB are on the record saying that the last of the birds are still nesting at this time.
“But when you go on to their website, it says these birds are on their way back to Africa in August because they are migrants.”
Mr Rutt said, if anything, it would be better to extend the hedgecutting dates on grassland (for land where no subsidies are claimed) to 1 September – and bring the date for cutting hedges on arable land back to 1 August.
“It just seems that someone at Defra has drawn a line across farming by saying that hedges on arable land are different to grassland – they aren’t.”
Mr Pursglove, Conservative MP for Corby and east Northamptonshire, wrote to Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom on behalf of Mr Rutt at the end of last month, asking her to review the August hedgecutting ban in light of the country’s vote for a Brexit.
Hedges ‘look a mess’
Yorkshire farm contractor Max Cook, of T Cook & Son, based in the Hull area, said income from hedgecutting had dropped off since the August trimming ban was introduced last year.
“Many farmers would look to get their hedges trimmed just after harvest while there is stubble in the field,” said Mr Cook.
“We now have a lot of hedges with two years of growth. It makes the hedges look a mess.
“Now you have to trim a lot of the growth to get the hedges back to where they were before. You end up with a very bare, open structure, which we think makes it worse for nesting birds.
“However, the only nesting birds we tend to get up here in August are pigeons. A lot of the smaller birds have gone by now.”