Farming News - Hedgerow removal plans spark calls for tighter legislation

Hedgerow removal plans spark calls for tighter legislation

22 Jan 2013
Frontdesk / Machinery

In the wake of a public backlash against planning proposals to remove several miles of hedgerow from a Shropshire farm, concerned members of the public and environment groups are pushing for improvements to legislation protecting Britain's hedgerows.


A recent planning case from Shropshire has reignited calls to improve protection of England's headgerows

The calls come after plans to remove 11,393 metres of hedgerow from a farm close to the Welsh border in South Shropshire were withdrawn by the farm owner. The proposals, lodged with planners in late December 2012, had attracted hundreds of complaints by the time they were withdrawn last week.


If passed, the plans would have allowed the removal of all hedges on Marrington Cottage Farm, though farmer Fraser Jones claimed it was never his intention to go ahead with removal on this scale. His application was opposed by both the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and Shropshire Wildlife Trust; Emma Marrington, Rural Policy Campaigner at CPRE said on 16th January, "Although it is a local case, it could have national implications. An application to remove all hedgerows on one farm is unprecedented in my experience."


Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscapes for The Wildlife Trusts, added, "Hedgerows, one of the defining features of the countryside, are vitally important to wildlife. A recent survey of an English hedge revealed the presence of 1,671 species including butterflies, moths, bees, birds, small mammals and numerous invertebrates. If hedges are ripped out, the impact will be felt far beyond the immediate locality; birds, bats, hedgehogs, bees and other creatures will lose feeding, nesting and sheltering opportunities across a wide area."


In the 1990s, regulation was introduced to protect hedgerows, which act as habitats and corridors for wildlife, and increase appreciation of their value to biodiversity. Hedgerows containing certain flowers and those of a certain age or length are protected by law. However, in light of their continued loss across the British countryside, campaigners believe considerations do not go far enough.


According to RSPB figures, 50 percent of hedgerows have disappeared from some parts of England since the Second World War and research by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE) revealed that hedgerow length in England declined by 20 percent between 1984 and 1990. In Wales the decline was even greater, at 25 percent.


Overall, the figures showed 9,500 km of hedgerow was lost each year. RSPB commented on both sets of figures, "Loss of hedgerows has been identified as a factor in the decline of many plant and animal species traditionally associated with farmland. Losses of managed hedges appear to have been halted in the mid-1990 [but] it is important to remember that newly-created or restored hedges may not have the same value in terms of wildlife, landscape and historical significance as long-established hedgerows." 

Calls to improve regulations after Shropshire plans withdrawn


A survey by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England in 2010 revealed 42 per cent of local councils want to see improvements to hedgerow protection rules to better serve their needs.  CPRE is now putting its weight behind calls for improved hedgerow protection, including lobbying government for landscape considerations to be added to the hedgerows Regulations.


A spokesperson for CPRE expressed concern that, despite the disastrous impact the removal of over ten thousand metres of hedgerow would have had on the local environment, council objections in Shropshire were centred on the age of the hedgerow in question. The spokesperson told Farming Online that CPRE will continue to push for both biodiversity and landscape impact considerations to be added to Hedgerow Regulations, adding the lobby group would be "taking the issue to Defra."


Building on popular opposition to the ill-fated hedgerow removal plans, local residents in Shropshire have launched an e-petition calling on government to review its Hedgerow Regulations to include consideration of landscape and biodiversity, as well as general public benefit and wellbeing associated with hedgerows. The residents behind the petition suggest permission to remove hedgerows should be subject to environmental impact assessments and landscape character assessments.


Their petition, which is listed on the government e-petitions website, will require 100,000 signatures to elicit a government response. Local campaigner Jon Kean, who registered the petition, said on Tuesday (22nd January), "There are lots of reasons for consideration here, mostly to do with wildlife. If wildlife is isolated this affects genetic diversity and animals effectively suffer from effects of inbreeding. There needs to be a patchwork that wildlife can work through. Hedges are also good for farming; the presence of the healthy wildlife they support adds to natural pest control."


Mr Kean concluded that hedgerows ultimately contribute to a more sustainable vision of farming. He said, "50 percent of the food we produce is thrown away. We simply don't need to produce more. Now is the time to create a food system that is good for farmers and the public, and replenish biodiversity. As soon as hedgerows go, wildlife goes."