Scottish farming chiefs seek hedgecutting ban reprieve

Oilseed rape growers in Scotland are seeking permission to trim hedgerows in August.

NFU Scotland has written to the Scottish government to ask for a derogation to allow OSR growers to maintain hedgerows in August after the cutting ban was extended from 31 July to 31 August, under changes to EU rules.

Farmers in the UK are now banned from trimming hedges in August to protect nesting birds, as part of EU legislation.

See also: Defra considers easing hedgecutting ban

For most Scottish farming operations, union leaders said this date change would present “little difficulty” and farmers recognised “the benefits to biodiversity that an extended protected period for hedgerows will deliver” in providing wildlife corridors.

However, because most OSR is planted before 31 August, NFUS has requested that individual farmers be allowed to apply for a derogation to continue to cut hedges around fields to be planted with OSR during August.

In the letter sent to Scottish government, the union points out that the derogation would give farmers the opportunity to still maintain hedgerows, but avoid the need to take heavy tractors and hedgecutting equipment into growing crops later in the year.

In England, Defra is working on a derogation, requested by the NFU, to allow hedgecutting in “prescribed circumstances” during August for farmers who “intended to sow oilseed rape or temporary grass during the month”.

NFUS president Nigel Miller said OSR growers in Scotland should be given the same opportunities as those south of the border.

“Scotland grows more than 30,000ha of oilseed rape each year, much of that is planted before the 31 August date after which hedgecutting is now permitted,” explained Mr Miller.

“We are asking for a sensible derogation, approved by local Scottish government offices on a case-by-case basis if necessary, to allow farmers to continue to cut hedges in fields to be planted with oilseed rape during the month of August.

“That would allow necessary hedge maintenance to be carried out without the tractor and hedgecutter going in after 31 August and potentially damaging a growing crop.”

He added: “Cutting back and managing hedge growth in a staged manner, over a more prolonged period, can add environmental benefits as well as fit with demands of crop rotation and machinery impact. This derogation request would fit with that aim.”

In Northern Ireland, farm minister Michelle O’Neill said last month her department would consider “limited derogations” in certain hedgecutting situations.

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