23 April 1999

Hedges lack protection

ENVIRONMENTAL controls to protect hedgerows and field boundaries should be applied to all farm subsidies, claims the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE).

In a new report, Hedging Your Bets, the CPRE says current hedgerow legislation fails to protect many of Englands important hedges and needs substantial revision. Its reliance on national standards failed to take account of significant regional variations, leaving fewer than one in four hedges protected by the law.

Important hedgerows are being lost because of the gaps in the regulations, said Kaley Hart, CPRE rural policy officer.

"The report demonstrates the need for new primary legislation to provide better protection across the whole of the countryside," she said.

As well as tighter legislation, the report concludes that "a system of environmental conditions relating to the protection of field boundaries should be applied to the payment of all farm subsidies".

But the NFU rejected the claims. "All hedgerow removals are subject to notification and our own surveys show that in some areas 60-80% of hedges are protected," a spokesman said.

Advice and incentives rather than tighter regulations would better ensure the long term management of hedges, he added.

Nevertheless, tighter regulations seem inevitable.

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has already carried out field-scale research on improving the system of protecting hedgerows.

A report is now with the environment minister Michael Meacher who is expected to release a new consultation paper later in the year.