6 June 1997

Hedgerow rule review is unnecessary – NFU

NFU officials have attacked the governments decision to review new hedgerow protection rules, which only came into effect on June 1, as unnecessary and premature.

NFU president, Sir David Naish, said an early review would not provide a balanced analysis of the effectiveness of the new rules.

"Any new legislation should be monitored closely in the first months of operation without being subject to further change and revision," Sir David said.

But environment minister, Michael Meacher, who announced the review, said the legislation, laid by the previous government, was "weak and inadequate for the task".

"We are determined to have an effective system which provides strong protection," he said.

Modern farming had contributed to a saddening decline in farmland bird numbers. To help reverse that trend it was essential to keep traditional well-hedged landscapes.

"But between 1984 and 1993, 58,000km of hedgerow were grubbed out from the countryside of England and Wales. This is far too high," added Mr Meacher.

Under the new legislation landowners must apply to planning authorities for permission to remove a hedgerow. The planning authorities have 28 days to give or refuse permission after looking at the historical, archaeological and wildlife importance of the hedgerow. Anyone caught removing a hedge illegally may face an unlimited fine.

The rules are expected to protect about 20% of important hedgerows in England and Wales. A group set up to review the legislation will include statutory agencies, local authorities and the main farming and conservation bodies.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds welcomed the announcement.

RSPB chief executive, Barbara Young, said: "The review must recommend that the regulations play their part in stopping the massive decline in once-common farmland birds."