31 March 2000

UKhedgerows win a reprieve

MAFF has negotiated a reprieve for Britains hedgerows after talks with the EU Commission led to the postponement of the controversial 2m hedge width rule – a move which would have forced farmers to cut back hedges to avoid losing subsidies.

MAFF had originally proposed the 2m rule to move the UK into line with EU regulations and make field boundaries that encroach more than 2m into a field ineligible for IACS payments.

But following complaints from consultants, farmers and environmentalists, the ministry persuaded EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler to let it delay the introduction of the new rules. And last week farms minister Nick Brown announced that existing rules for field measurements would stay in force in Britain for at least 12 months.

This means farmers will not have to cut back hedges to hold on to their subsidies or re-measure their fields – a task which could have cost £5000-£6000 in surveying fees alone for a 400ha (1000 acre) farm.

"Farmers can now be reassured that if their hedges and other margins were acceptable last year, there should be no problem this year," said Mr Brown.

MAFF will now turn its attention to drawing up a new permanent regulation "that takes into account the importance of hedges to the British countryside". Discussions will centre on introducing flexibility so that "environmental justification" can be used to exclude certain hedges from the rules.