Farm leaders in Northern Ireland are lobbying their government to introduce exemptions to allow hedgecutting during the closed period.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has called on Northern Irish agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill to give farmers the option to trim hedges in August.
The call was made after Defra announced that it was working on a derogation that would allow farmers in England to cut hedges in “prescribed circumstances” during August.
Defra’s move is in line with the UFU’s position on hedgecutting closed period exemptions, which was submitted to the NI Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard) during a consultation on the new good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC) cross-compliance rules.
Farmers in Northern Ireland are prohibited from cutting hedges between 1 March and 31 August.
UFU president Ian Marshall said: “The UFU has been raising concerns about the hedgecutting dates for some time now and we have always said forcing farmers to farm by dates makes things incredibly difficult at a practical level.
“August is a particularly busy time of year for farmers and the current lack of flexibly in hedgecutting dates put farmers under a huge amount of pressure.
“By having exemptions to the hedge cutting closed period dates, this would allow farmers some much needed breathing space.”
“The UFU has been raising concerns about the hedgecutting dates for some time now and we have always said forcing farmers to farm by dates makes things incredibly difficult at a practical level.”
Ian Marshall, UFU president
Wales has already adopted this approach, with no repercussions from the EU Commission and no reports of a decline in farmland birds – and now England look set to adopt it.
The UFU said this would leave Northern Ireland with the toughest rules out of all the UK regions and potentially put their farmers at a “significant disadvantage”.
As part of Dard’s consultation on the GAEC cross compliance rules, the UFU proposed an exemption to allow farmers to cut or trim a hedgerow on any land which has been ploughed during August if the farmer is planting winter arable crops on that land or is reseeding grassland as part of the farmer’s normal farming practice.
The union said it was likely that such an exemption would only apply to a small area of agricultural land and should not have a detrimental impact in Northern Ireland.
The union has also urged that trimming hedges should be permitted in early March to allow fencing to take place, as it is evident that there is little nesting activity at that time.