Farmers on why they signed our hedgecutting petition

More than 1,700 people signed a Farmers Weekly petition urging Defra to repeal the August hedgecutting ban.

At the end of this month, Farmers Weekly staff will present the petition to an MP to deliver on our behalf to Defra’s offices in London.

Ahead of this, we asked three people to tell us why they signed our petition. Here’s what they told us.

See also: 10 reasons why farmers want hedgecutting ban lifted

Robert Rutt – farm contractor

Cuts more than 2,630ha of hedges each year on farms, council land, golf courses, woodland and equestrian centres in Northamptonshire

“August was traditionally my busiest period for cutting hedges. The income helped me through the lean periods. I have lost thousands by being forced to sit out the busiest month of the year.

“We would normally follow the combines around and trim hedges. But the August ban impedes cultivations and some landowners are reluctant to let you on the land if the weather deteriorates in September.

“Defra aren’t listening to the people who love, live and work in the countryside. The only birds I have ever seen nesting in August are woodpigeons.

“Nine out of 10 of the birds Defra is concerned about are migrants. It’s the out-of-season time at home that is affecting their numbers, including climate change, a lack of food source, etc. An increase in raptors and cats is a contributory factor.

“We cut the hedges tight. The birds don’t nest in the sprigs on the outside, but on the inside where it’s safe and the raptors cannot get them.

“In my view, trimming hedges in August won’t make any difference to birds – if there are any – that are still breeding at this time.”

David Bolton – farm consultant

Farm business consultant, Bridgham, Norfolk

“Defra has forgotten that rotational farming means we combine oilseed rape in July, or very early August, which is usually the forerunner to planting winter wheat.

“The time window between the break crop coming off is roughly three to four weeks. During this time, farmers are caring for their fields with cultivations and clearing ditches etc.

“It’s a very tight window and a wet September can cause all sorts of bother.

“Yes, you can get a derogation to cut hedges in August if you are drilling oilseed rape. But does Defra really have the time to micromanage the country to this degree?

“Other than woodpigeons – which I would argue are vermin and need reducing, not sparing – experienced farmers tell us nearly all the birds have finished nesting by August.

“As a gardener, you can cut hedges all year round. This ruling against farmers is dotty nonsense and the economic implications are quite severe if you transgress your Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions [GAEC] rules.”

David Pearce – farmer

Beef and sheep farmer and experienced hedgecutter in Burrington, north Devon

“We used to trim hedges in August for years without any problems. I have never seen a cloud of bird feathers. By then, there are never any birds left in the hedges anyway.

“The people who are having the say on this policy don’t actually complete the work.

“Defra is listening too much to pressure groups and not taking the views of farmers seriously enough.

“Some people recommend trimming hedges every two to three years. But you end up cutting the hedge back too much. I think a hedge that is trimmed twice a year looks better than one which is trimmed every year.

“I take pride in my job and I always like to trim my hedges early. It gives more time for the hedges to green up before the winter and creates a tighter hedge for birds to nest in.

“There is no pride in trimming hedges in December or January. It causes more damage to the hedges.

“Little birds need nice, tight hedges to keep out of sight of the raptors. There are so many magpies and buzzards trying to pick them off. Defra should change the rules back to what they were before.”

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