Minister rules out hedgecutting review until after Brexit

Farm minster George Eustice has ruled out any reversal of the hedgecutting ban in August, insisting there will be no changes at least until after Brexit.

The extension of the hedgecutting ban by one month has been deeply unpopular with farm contractors.

Typically, contractors would follow combines round in August and trim hedges immediately after harvest.

See also: Hedgecutting ban – Leadsom asked to change dates

But the August ban was introduced in England last year as part of EU regulations “to protect nesting birds on farms”.

Northamptonshire farm contractor Bob Rutt said the ban cost him up to £8,000 again in lost income this summer, as he was forced to sit it out in August.

The hedgecutting season reopened on 1 September for six months, but Mr Rutt said some farmers and landowners were turning to two- or three-year cutting cycles and turning down offers of work.

‘No changes to ban’

However, in a letter seen by Farmers Weekly, Mr Eustice has insisted there will be no changes to the policy “in the immediate future”.

Tom Pursglove, Conservative MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire, wrote to Mr Eustice in late July on behalf of his constituent Mr Rutt, requesting a Defra review of the ban.

In his reply sent on 15 September, Mr Eustice, who campaigned for the UK to leave the EU in the referendum, writes: “I understand the impact the hedgecutting dates has had on your constituent and sympathise with the problems he has encountered.

“There will be no immediate changes until we leave, the current EU arrangements for farming and our environment remain in place.”

Mr Eustice explains that during consultations on the new CAP, the NFU “argued strongly” that sowing oilseed rape and temporary grass were key farming activities that needed to continue in August.

“More than 2,000 claimants were able to take advantage of this opportunity in 2015 and derogations are available again this year,” he writes.

‘Effect on yellowhammers’

In a handwritten note at the end of the letter, Mr Eustice says there is evidence that trimming hedges in August has an “effect on yellowhammers and other wonderful species”.

In response, Mr Rutt told Farmers Weekly: “They are listening to the RSPB, which is criticising farming. It is not actually this country that is killing them [nesting birds] off.”

Mr Rutt said the August trimming ban “unfairly singles out farming” and does not take into account other factors, such as an increase in raptors, domestic cats and fewer food sources in Africa for migrating birds that travel to the UK to breed.

He advises landowners who require cutting derogations for August 2017 to apply no later than January “to avoid disappointment”.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “The NFU have always questioned the science as to whether there is a significant detrimental impact on nesting birds from August hedgetrimming. If there are any environmental gains, they do not seem proportionate to the extra cost and inconvenience the ban causes farmers.

“However, where hedgecutting in February/March or bi-annual cutting suits a farmer’s field management then we recognise there are clear benefits to wildlife.

“I notice my hedges at home are full of hips and haws at the moment which I am keen to keep in place as I know it’s a good winter larder for birds in the hungry post Christmas months.”

See more