Contractors are being encouraged by the Farm Wildlife Advisory Group – FWAG – to swot up on the new rules governing hedgerow management.
Introduced with the single farm payment, the regulations require certain standards to be met.
Failure to observe the new rules on hedgerow management – like other areas of cross-compliance – could see offending producers penalised and single farm payments suspended, contractors were told at FWAG’s recent demonstration day at Harper Adams University College, Shropshire.
So what’s required?
Under cross-compliance all farms must observe:
A closed season for hedgerow cutting during the bird nesting season, between 1 March and 31 July (1 March and 31 August in Wales).
Cutting during the nesting season is only allowed where material is overhanging public roads, footpaths, bridleways or at access points such as gateways where safety is an issue.
Hedges should be reshaped over a period of time towards a taller A-shape, rather than square-shaped examples.
Hedgerow saplings are to be left periodically to grow into trees where possible to enhance visual and wildlife value.
1.5-2m ground protection zone from centre of hedge should be cut annually, but not fertilised, sprayed or cultivated.
Where farms opt to undertake Entry Level Stewardship to increase payments, additional points must be observed:
Maintain hedges to a minimum of 1.5m height, although taller may be preferable.
Hedge sides should be cut only once every alternate year and tops left to encourage height.
Avoid cutting all hedges in the same year; decide which will be cut in any given year and make a physical map/plan as a record.
Where hedgebanks exist (mainly south west) these should be managed in accordance with hedgerow rules.
Level EB3 Enhanced conservation management
The closed season for hedgerow cutting during the bird nesting season is extended from 28 February to 1 September.
Maintain hedges to a minimum height of 2m or what is traditional to the local area and leave some hedgerow saplings to mature.
Hedge sides should be cut only once every third year and, therefore, no more than one-third of total hedging to be cut in any given year.
Other issues will arise for contractors, says Alison Jones, Shropshire FWAG conservation adviser.
“I would encourage all contractors to ensure clients provide a plan of hedgerows detailing which are to be cut in any given year.
Preferably, have this plan in the tractor with you as a quick reference.
“Hedgerow cuttings must be cleared away, particularly from public roads and pathways.
“These can be burnt on the owner’s land, but contractors should ensure they have an agreement with their client as to whose responsibility this becomes.”
Use of disc cutters, rather than flail cutters, may be necessary to cope with thicker, woodier stems especially on farms opting for the longer, enhanced conservation options.
This can leave large amounts of whole hedgerow branches to be collected and disposed of, which will add to the workload.