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Earl Ferrers: I have some time left, at any rate. When the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill was being debated some time ago, we were in opposition. One lunchtime I happened to sit next to the chairman of de Havilland, Canada. He made a pertinent remark. He said, "Ministers can say, 'Don't worry, we will leave it all to the officials or to the business to run when it is nationalised'. It won't make any difference." He then said, "They can say that and they can mean it, but it will be the civil servants who will badger the thing to death". That was said about nationalisation. If you ask people to produce regulations, it is not the civil servants' fault. But the fact is that if you have got to make regulations, you must make them fair for any conceivable
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I want to express my warm welcome to this debate and my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, for initiating it. I should also like to thank the Government for being willing to review the 1997 regulations. I believe that those regulations have achieved a good deal. They have saved considerable lengths of historically and ecologically important hedgerows; but they are too complicated and, I believe that in some respects they are not strong enough. The criteria by which a hedge is judged to be important are complex and narrowly drawn. I warmly approve of the attempt to define what is important, and I think one has to acknowledge that the authorities have tried to operate these regulations in a responsible and conscientious way.
I want to speak particularly of Herefordshire, which I know best. The success of the unitary authority in Herefordshire has been quite encouraging. Fifty-five per cent of hedges proposed for removal have been protected--3.6 kilometres out of 5.3 kilometres, for which application was made--but the planning authority itself greatly regrets the lack of a landscape criterion. Again and again important hedges have been lost. They are important in landscape terms because the critical need to retain a rich and diverse beautiful network of small fields in certain special areas has not been supported in any sense by the regulations. In particular, the requirements of a specific number of woody species to define the length of a hedge is very complicated and too demanding and, as has already been said, in winter you cannot tell which is which.
I suggest that it could at least be simplified by, say, five woody species in 100 metres or less of hedge, with no reference to the associated features, which complicate the present arrangements. So I would add my voice to the many asking for a landscape value criterion which would complement the proper emphasis on ecology and history in the existing regulations.
I want to draw particular attention to one aspect of hedgerow destruction which receives very little publicity. It is not well understood, I believe, and in fact is encouraged by the present agricultural support system for hill farmers. Of course the origin of the problem, if one wants to call it a problem, of hedgerow destruction was, and still is, in arable country. The demands of farmers for larger acreages on which ever larger machinery can operate has been part of the desire for greater efficiency. In many ways that is entirely laudable and necessary, although the price in terms of the transformation of the landscape is one which needs to be carefully weighed. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and others who have said that farming is an important industry and it has to be taken seriously; but it is a case of balance between the needs of the farmer and the needs of the community which values the landscape and may be prepared to pay for it.
I am acutely aware of a particular problem in rural Herefordshire and Shropshire, in the hill country of the Welsh Marches. Here it is not a question of farmers applying to remove hedges, but of the progressive and relentless degradation of hedges by grazing patterns, which are themselves the direct result of the policy of subsidies designed to give those hill farmers a precarious living. It is precarious, but it is some kind of living. For 35 years I have known and loved the walk up Black Hill, the Cat's Back, a protruding spine of the Black Mountains, from which point you can look west into the remote and beautiful Olchon Valley or east towards the lush pastures of the Wye Valley. Westwards, this view has hardly changed in hundreds of years. Eastwards, for the first mile or so there are still the small steep fields; and then the further you go the larger the fields become, many of them at this time of year hideous with oil seed rape.
Eastwards a lot of hedges have been removed, but not as many as in other parts of England. However, it is the Olchon Valley itself, and many similar upland landscapes, which are under a new threat. This is the structure of agricultural support. The system of paying farmers for production units, that is headage payments on each ewe, coupled with the low cost of purchasing those production units, at the moment increases the number of sheep grazing the land. The headage payment is £8.88 per ewe for "specially qualified ewes". A further upland subsidy of £4.09 is claimable. Ewes of this type are very cheap to buy, and quota, which confers the entitlement to both payments, can be bought or leased. This encourages the farmer to acquire more sheep and to bid high for "keep" in upland areas, far above their real values as grazing land.
A farmer can buy a ewe for £8 and be paid nearly £13 per year for keeping it, and so he keeps too many. By contrast, the countryside stewardship scheme requires farmers to observe strict stocking limits, refrain from using fertiliser and maintain hedges. These restrictions preclude revenue from letting grazing, but the CSS pays only £35 an acre on species-rich meadows, and nothing at all on rye grass and clover leys. So there is no incentive for these farmers to enter into a stewardship agreement when they can reap subsidies for extensive sheep grazing, either themselves or by the price they can charge for the grass keep.
It is a sad fact that government policy is exacerbating the decline of upland hedgerows. The present legislation has to be welcomed, but I would suggest two further measures which I hope may stem from this review. First, I believe we should decouple the land management and the hedgerow management components of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, so that farmers who are currently discouraged from using the scheme because it imposes such demands on them in terms of land management could still subscribe to the hedgerow management measures.
Secondly, and more importantly, we should institute area payments heavily weighted in favour of environmental criteria. This is the single best change to protect our landscape and, incidentally, the family farm. Headage payments on production units are illogical in
The over-production, of course, does depress prices and further distorts the market, and so, while I would urge an imaginative and wide-ranging review of the present legislation, I hope that the noble Baroness may be able to give your Lordships some indication that the Government recognise this particular unwelcome and undesirable aspect of our farm support system. I hope she will be able to give a firm indication that funds can be redirected in a more environmentally beneficial direction. It would be very warmly welcomed by those who care about both our upland hedges and our family farms.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, the more I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, the more I thought that his opening comment was not quite accurate. He said he had always been interested in the conservation of hedgerows. I thought it was more the preservation of hedgerows that interested him. I would not have been at all surprised, had the noble Lord been alive when the enclosure Acts were put before Parliament, that he would have been the first to vote against them because they would have altered the countryside as he knew it then.
Like my noble friend Lord Ferrers, I am against regulations and I was sad that the government I supported introduced the regulations when they did. Regulations should be introduced only when they are absolutely necessary, and I do not believe them to be necessary for hedgerows. What saddens me more is that it is absolutely instinctive for any Labour Party to ratchet up and increase regulation and put a further burden on individuals. If we are going to continue to have these regulations, I make a plea to the noble Baroness that they should be transparent, equitable and objective. It should be vital that every farmer should be able to understand clearly, whether he farms in the uplands or the lowlands, what the purport of the regulations is and to implement them to the best of his ability without additional costs.
I thoroughly support the protection of hedgerows and their conservation, but it is not only the protection of hedgerows that I support. It is equally important to preserve the dry-stone walls of Oxfordshire, where I have spent so much of my life, and the slate walls of Caithness, in the right circumstances. Again, it comes back to balance, and there must be balance in the regulations between the environmental and aesthetic aspects and the needs of the farmer to continue to farm into the next millennium.
It is quite clear that this Labour Government are no great friend of the countryside. This Labour Government will reduce the support given to farmers and, given that, the farmers must have the flexibility to be able to continue to farm profitably on the land. We cannot put the countryside into a glass case and preserve
It is management of the countryside that is important. It is only through good management that one will be able to preserve the things that we like to see so much. And I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, if I were still a land agent and read his speech, I regret that I would be tempted to go to my clients--my farmers, tenant farmers and landowners--and say, "Look, this is only going to get worse for you. My advice is to get on and reshape your farm as quickly as possible before they make it harder for you to take out hedgerows with any flexibility". I am sad to say that. I would not like to give that advice; but if I were to go back to my old job as a land agent, that is the advice I would have to give, because it seems to me that matters are going to get worse.
Let me move on quickly to a topic that has not yet been raised. I refer to the question of genetic engineering and farming. Sir Robert May, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, gave advice to a Select Committee in another place. Sadly, that advice has not yet been printed and I shall therefore have to rely on press reports. I do not like relying on press reports; I have never found them accurate in the past but it is the best I can do today.
Lord Grantchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hardy for raising this debate tonight. I declare an interest as a dairy farmer in Cheshire who can claim to have laid and planted probably more than double the length of hedges than he has removed.
It is little more than a year since the 1997 hedgerow regulations came into force. That is hardly long enough to draw too many hard conclusions about the effects of this measure. While removals and plantings around town or road developments may occur at any time, farm
The 1997 regulations require a person wanting to remove a hedgerow to seek prior approval from the local planning authority, which decides whether it is important in terms of its wildlife, historical or landscape value and whether it should be protected. At the time these regulations became law, it was considered that only 20 per cent of hedgerows were likely to be deemed important. From the information provided by the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) in its excellent booklet, Hedging Your Bets, experience since seems to bear out that figure. On page 7, the CPRE claims that only 20 per cent of hedgerows are being protected, ranging from around 10 per cent in the North East and West, to around 39 per cent in East Anglia and 33 per cent in the South West. The booklet goes on to claim that that is woefully inadequate. I am not so convinced. Perhaps the Minister tonight can indicate whether the Government are still content with that 20 per cent figure, or whether they would like to see that figure increased.
It must not be forgotten that hedgerows are natural boundary fences. It would not be unexpected that they would change following changes in the area they enclose. Losses arise from many causes, including development, roads and neglect. It would be helpful if a review could indicate how important each of those regions is, and portray the differing regional trends in hedgerow loss and standards of management. That could prove instructive in developing the criteria for assessing the importance of a hedgerow; for example, hedgerows which qualify for protection by all other criteria are excluded if they border gardens or are in an urban area. Furthermore, it is important that the implications of any change in the criteria are fully assessed before any changes are made.
The amount of hedgerows at any one time will also depend on the rate of new plantings. It is my understanding that in the last recorded period, 1990-93, new plantings exceeded removal. More diverse species can often be used in new plantings; blackthorn, the bane of many a hedge to a livestock farmer, can be reduced. In conducting its survey, it would have proved instructive if the CPRE had recorded details of new plantings to provide a picture regarding the development of our hedgerow landscape.
The CPRE questionnaire dealt only with the hedgerow protection regulations and was directed at local authorities. It would prove extremely beneficial in this debate to have the input of the advice of information agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group. Any review must also take into account how hedgerows have benefited under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, environmentally sensitive areas and Tir Cymen, with its successor Tir Gofal.
The rural landscape must not be simply frozen in protection legislation, but its development enhanced by positive schemes. Hedgerow legislation needs to be administered via a regional and local framework. If administered in the planning department of local authorities, local knowledge and expertise must be drawn upon to assess hedgerows and allow greater liaison with other departments and environmental agencies.
Local authority biodiversity plans and farmers' habitat action plans have the potential to sustain the environmental value of hedgerows in a more meaningful way and to work alongside protection. Management options could be more widely promoted in renovating boundary hedges, including stone walls and ditches. Additional resources will be needed for this purpose, but should not be found at the expense of other activities supported by the agri-environmental schemes. A real increase in the funds available for agri-environmental schemes is needed. Those schemes are already over-subscribed. Funds should be sought through urgent reforms to the common agricultural policy (CAP) by changing this into a rural development policy.
As a side issue, I should like to stress that "cross-compliance" is not the way forward. It will bring an added costly level of bureaucracy that, once enacted, will become entrenched and will prop up unwanted production support. Funds must be targeted on what they seek to achieve.
The conclusion to be drawn from the CPRE booklet, Hedging Your Bets, is that experience of the hedgerow regulations 1997 has shown the difficulties of establishing a simple regulatory regime that properly reflects the changing needs of land management while safeguarding the environmental values associated with boundaries. Time, further analysis and consideration of alternative initiatives is needed before the extension of protection to hedgerows and, indeed, other field, road or urban boundaries is embarked upon.
Lord Middleton: My Lords, any discussion about hedgerows has to take into account the fact that their agricultural functions differ widely within the UK. Their functions in the livestock farms west of the Pennines, in the South West and in Wales are largely different from those in the arable East of England where their chief function was to mark the boundaries of fields and holdings fixed during the enclosures. In the drained fen lands of south Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, there never were any hedges. To grow them on that land would have been a gross misuse of that very fertile soil.
The environmental importance of hedgerows is a different matter. It gives rise to public concern and a call for orders and regulations, hence the hedgerow regulations 1997. As a farmer, I understand the functions--and sometimes lack of any function--of hedges. I understand why many miles of hedgerows were grubbed up in the post-war years. At the same time, I am on the side of the conservationists in wishing to preserve hedges which are environmentally important and which enhance the landscape.
As has been said, on purely practical grounds hedgerows can prevent erosion; but, more importantly, if insects and grubs are not kept under control by other insects and by birds which depend upon the hedgerows, disaster threatens. However, it goes deeper than that: there is a love of our countryside that animates all of us, from town and country alike. None of us wants to see a landscape like that of Oklahoma.
What do you see now if you drive around England and Wales? You do see farms, especially in East Anglia and the East Midlands and, I am sorry to say, in some parts of the North of England where I come from, where hedges have been removed, yet the greater part of rural England and Wales is, to all appearances, untouched.
Hedge removal in some areas was overdone, giving farmers a bad name. But although I do not have up-to-date removal statistics, I guess from what I see that the pattern of the countryside has stabilised. I know of many farms where new hedges have been planted and it is evident that farmers are now well aware of their responsibility for the appearance and ecology of the land that they occupy.
The hedgerow regulations 1997 now provide a regulatory floor to protect important hedgerows. As we have heard, they may need tidying up. But do we need more regulation to govern the activities of the harassed farmers of the millennium? As the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, reminded us, planners are already faced with the most difficult task in assessing which hedges are important in terms of historical, landscape and wildlife value. The first involves laborious research and the second and third, as the noble Lord reminded us, require difficult subjective judgments before permission for removal can be granted.
I believe that the carrot is a more effective instrument than the stick of tighter regulations. One form of incentive of which I am not in favour is "cross-compliance", whereby grants and subsidies to farmers are dependent upon certain prescribed activities; for example, the maintenance of hedges. While I was serving on Sub-Committee D, I heard many witnesses to our inquiries recommending cross-compliance, yet I never heard a satisfactory answer to the question: "Well, what happens when a grant or subsidy is phased out as the common agricultural policy undergoes reform?"
Had this debate been held before March of this year, I would have said that the environmental payments recommended by the Commission in Agenda 2000 should be used to provide incentives for such things as hedgerow management. However, these Agenda 2000 proposals were considerably watered down as a result of
While funding will be considerably less than generous, it is still available for separate agri- environmental measures. It is in this area that I believe Her Majesty's Government should be delving in order to produce incentives rather than going further down the regulatory road. It will need great ingenuity to find the money to do it.
Lord Gladwyn: My Lords, hedgerow protection was first introduced only two years ago. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has frankly told us that even that was a bit of a fluke. However, I am one of those who believe that some legislation was necessary following that introduced regarding trees. After all, in the past half century the total length of hedgerows has diminished by nearly half, and at a pretty constant rate.
We have to accept that the greater part of the destruction had to happen. No one could reasonably suggest that the field patterns of pre-mechanical farming, whose intricacies were fortuitously photographed by the Luftwaffe over southern England in 1940, could have remained unchanged if British agriculture was to flourish. The governments of the day provided grants for the grubbing up of hedgerows. Urban development, airfield construction and highway improvement also played their part. But it was also excessive and, in many cases, particularly in the cornlands of eastern England, ruthlessly executed to maximise farm incomes without any regard for ecological considerations.
It has to be said that during this period members of the public were altogether unconcerned about hedgerow destruction, just as they had been about the destruction of ancient buildings before the 1960s. Until the 1980s it was not a political issue. Most land managers now share the general disquiet about what has happened. Many are prepared to help to rectify the loss, assisted by Countryside Stewardship and other schemes. During the three years from 1990-93 a greater mileage of new hedgerows was planted than was destroyed. It was probably of an even higher proportion in subsequent years. We hear from the noble Lords, Lord Stanley and Lord Grantchester, and indeed the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, how they have been planting new hedges in great lengths. I see also that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is in his place. He has shown me long distances of new hedges planted on his estate in Suffolk.
However, it is the continuing destruction that exercises us today. It continues despite the new regulations which anyway only affect about a fifth of the total remaining hedgerows. The main thrust of the Government's review of last year is that clearer criteria should be set for the importance of hedgerows in respect of landscape and wildlife and that notification of
The urgency of the need to stiffen the regulations is powerfully emphasised by the new report published by the CPRE, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. The report demonstrates effectively wide regional variations in terms of the proportion of protectable hedgerows and in terms of the particularities of the landscape.
The CPRE report also raises the further question of hedgerow maintenance, pointing out that neglect rather than wanton destruction is now the main threat. It suggests that incentives should be given for hedge repair. That seems eminently sensible. However, the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, who is to be commended for providing us with today's debate, has put forward the idea that the provisions of the ancient enclosure Acts should be invoked requiring farmers to keep their hedges in good condition. As many old hedgerows are in such a state that they would have to be completely relaid, I presume that the cost would be enormous. Bearing in mind the extensive planting of new hedges, which is such an encouraging feature of the countryside today, enforcement of this ancient legislation would, in my opinion, be most uncalled for and unfortunate. I hope that the court cases will not lead to a general move to enforce it.
The fact is that most of the hedgerows of today exist because they enhance the look of the countryside, demarcate boundaries, and act as sanctuaries for wildlife. Only a minority provide an economic benefit, and most livestock is now controlled by electric fencing. Consequently, most hedgerows, no longer cropped or ditched, have expanded from close cropped barriers which a horse could easily jump into wide bushes along lines of trees.
It can be argued that in some ways the appearance of the landscape has actually been improved compared with a century ago when hedges were small and treeless except for pollarded stumps and when there were far fewer mature trees. William Cobbett, during his travels in eastern England, painted a not very attractive picture of some of the agricultural countryside in that respect. It is fascinating to walk in Dedham Vale to the precise points where Constable painted his canvases and to observe how hedge-trees have altered the scene. From the side of the valley the scene appears largely wooded, although in fact it is pastoral. Old straggly hedgerows can thus enhance the landscape, even if they sometimes provide a diminished habitat for natural life.
There are several pleasant ironies in the changes in public attitude towards hedgerows. When first introduced, the hedges and ditches with which farmers bounded their fields were always hated by the peasantry who thereby lost their common pastures and were
But one central fact remains above all others. Hedgerows are merely the boundaries of fields. Fields exist because of agriculture. If agriculture declines, fields will themselves deteriorate into areas of rough ground, ultimately growing into woods. When this happens, the hedge will no longer be a hedge. An awful warning of what might happen is apparent to anyone who has travelled through New England. There are endless square miles of grim secondary woodland growth. If one walks beneath it, one can discern the desolate stone walls of former fields. Let us ensure that old England never goes the same way.
Having been born in Australia, I came to Britain in 1955 for six months. Considering myself a visitor, I travelled widely throughout the United Kingdom from Land's End to John o' Groats. This old world was to me a completely new world. I marvelled at sights that local people took for granted; thatched roofs, dry-stone walling, village market places, ancient monuments and castles, and, not least, the glorious specimens of broadleaved deciduous trees and the old, old hedgerows.
For 10 years I had my home in Cornwall, a county where the lanes are often so narrow they have special passing places for vehicles. Our house was on a working farm in a beautiful area which was a designated site of special scientific interest. All the fields around were bounded by hedgerows and it was a joy to look out from our raised position on to this marvellous patchwork. The farmer described his methods as traditional; we would now say they were organic. He loved wildlife, birds and butterflies and taught my children, who were young at the time, how to spot and identify the different creatures, many of which either lived in the hedgerows or sheltered under them.
County councils, as the traffic authority, are responsible for maintaining the hedgerows along the roadside. Safety is one of the most important factors and so these hedgerows are trimmed but not destroyed. It is the hedgerows within the fields that are at risk, and those who aim, by destruction of the ancient hedgerows, to convert English fields into American-style prairies are very shortsighted. I have seen the devastating effect in Australia where severe soil erosion has been the result of over-ambitious clearing of the land.
In Oxfordshire last week the hedgerows were alight with hawthorn blossoms. The very sight of them lifted my spirits. I strongly support the retention of hedgerows of native species in rural situations. However, an
I know that Members of Parliament are increasingly encountering such cases in their constituencies, and Hedgeline is having a major meeting in the Grand Committee Room tomorrow. Hedgeline is an organisation which advises and helps those who suffer loss of light, damage to buildings through subsidence, and loss of the proper use of their gardens for plant growing and recreation due to dense, evergreen conifers planted on, or close to, garden boundaries. The culprits in these unneighbourly situations are not British native trees but Lawson cypress introduced from Canada or Leyland cypress, a relatively new hybrid with an amazing speed of growth. These trees rapidly reach up to 100 feet in height. Planted along boundaries between gardens, they have been a great cause of at least annoyance and even major nuisance between neighbours. It is interesting that if a person wishes to erect a garden wall between houses planning permission is required for anything higher than two metres. Yet a densely planted row of trees can grow without control and destroy a neighbour's amenity and sometimes cause great loss of light.
One district council not far from London, in an area beset by many of these problems already, has, in granting full planning permission for a new building, included conditions that a landscaping scheme must be agreed with the council. The type of hedge to be planted must be of a species agreed in writing with the council and,
"no other new hedge shall be planted within five metres of that boundary without approval in writing of the District Planning Authority". I commend this considerate and far-sighted approach. It seems clear to me that the council has been aware of the Birmingham case of Michael Jones on the Bournville Estate in Birmingham where neighbours fell out over hedge heights about 20 years ago. The court decision confirmed that Mr. Jones could trim the intervening hedge and he did so. The neighbour then planted a further parallel hedge inside the first hedge. The Bournville Village estate was established by George Cadbury as the prototype of an urban village almost 100 years ago. The trust which manages the properties confirmed to me yesterday that on 15th April it served a writ requiring the owners to maintain the inner hedge.
"These Regulations do not apply to any hedgerow within the curtilage of, or marking a boundary of the curtilage of, a dwelling house". This is an important point and should not be changed. Urban and rural hedges each require appropriate controls but the present clear distinction between the two should continue. I hope that the Minister is able to reassure me that, whatever other changes are proposed to the 1997 regulations on hedgerows, this unambiguous paragraph will remain.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, we owe a continuing debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, for keeping before the House both the significance of our hedgerows and what is happening to them. Most people simply take hedgerows and, indeed, other field boundaries for granted. They see them as a God-given part of the landscape. They admire them and are inspired by their variety and colour, but perhaps rarely think about who maintains them and at what cost. They are simply there; we expect them to remain; but in reality, in some areas at least, they are slowly but surely disappearing. Indeed, I heard of a farmer in the West Midlands who last year lodged an application to remove nine kilometres of hedgerow from his land--virtually every hedgerow on his farm--and withdrew that application only after a local outcry. But he could well resubmit that application.
As we have heard, the picture differs from area to area, as the CPRE's recent report, Hedging our Bets, reveals. I take no pleasure that under current criteria in the north-west of England the protection is less than 10 per cent.
One of the main causes for this decline in maintenance and loss of our field boundaries is quite simply, but sadly, neglect. That is not very surprising since they are now less justified in agronomic terms and the cost of maintaining them, as we have heard, often brings little benefit to the farmers and landowners at a time when much of agriculture, in spite of increased government subsidy, is in a very real and serious depression. It is clear that there is a strong case for public support to recognise the benefits we all gain from the hedgerows and without which the decline will continue.
In view of what is happening in the countryside to this valuable asset, I can do no more than to urge Her Majesty's Government to consider most carefully the appropriate way to allow further and appropriate protection. The matter is serious if all types of traditional field boundaries are to be protected before it is too late. I hope that consideration will be extended to include those dykes and ditches, banks and walls, which are the equivalent of hedgerows in some distinctive parts of our country. It would be a real shame if, having protected the hedgerows, other distinctive features of the landscape and important wildlife habitats were lost.
For reasons which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, eloquently suggested, this matter cannot be allowed to drag on. There is every evidence from recent history to suggest that if something is in the offing, people will take serious and dilatory action beforehand. I know of a case in Warwickshire where between the passing of the 1995 Act and the regulations coming into force a kilometre of 18th-century hedgerow was removed to create a 283-hectare field.
However, that said, we must be realistic. The result of such protective legislation will cost money to farmers and landowners who, although many are hard-pressed at the present time, are the stewards of our countryside, both to the Creator and to ourselves. There is, therefore, a further need to examine the potential for providing greater funding for such field boundaries currently under agro-environmental schemes. I would go further--in the light of the debate, I think I have support--and ask the Government to consider the potential for introducing a simple, stand-alone, agro-environmental scheme, the purpose of which would focus solely on field boundary protection, maintenance and development. I hope that the Minister will be able to give cause for hope that the Government will not delay but will continue with the good work they have begun in this area.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, as a land manager of historic parkland, an ancient forest with nature reserves, SSSI and farmland, I wish to indulge the House with some of my views on hedgerows--views that I have formed as a hands-on farmer over many years. I wonder how many noble Lords speaking today have planted, cut or laid hedges.
When the enclosure Act came into being and fields were enclosed with stone walls and hedges, there was quite an outcry. Today the opposite tends to be true. As a land manager I look for the practical purposes of
The purpose of a hedge is to be a boundary, a palisade and a shelter for stock. More recently, we believe it is also an important reservoir of wildlife and can often be beneficial to our crops. For it to be of any use as a stop barrier, the composition of a hedge should not include such things as elder, but thorn and the like, which is hardy and strong, and enables laying. Advisory groups such as FWAG, RSPB and ADAS give invaluable advice on this conservation.
A farm is a commercial enterprise producing high quality foodstuffs that are sold in a very competitive world market. We have to bear that in mind when we consider what we want from hedges on our farms. I have a medium-sized farm. I believe that in an ideal world a field should be big enough to allow one or two combines to harvest it in a day--it should be, say, 20 to 40 hectares--but certainly bigger than in the days when ploughs were drawn by horses. Fields should be of a sensible size so that our high-tech equipment can travel in straight lines and reduce spray overlaps, thus ensuring that excesses of pesticides and fertilisers are minimised. Too many hedges on a farm lead to too much costly work and, consequently, poor quality hedging. Surely it must be correct to have one large field with a well-nurtured hedge on a good, wide, grassy boundary than several small fields with poor hedges, poor habitat for wildlife and more detrimental areas of spray overlaps.
There is much misunderstanding about the conservation of the landscape. For instance, from a wildlife point of view, trees in hedgerows are not necessarily a good thing. The natural predator of an English partridge is the goshawk, and goshawks live in trees. Thus, any wise partridge will never go near a tree in a hedgerow for fear of its natural predator. Over the past 25 years, grey partridges have declined by 78 per cent. It would be too simplistic to say that this decline would be halted or reversed by strengthening the hedgerow regulations. In fact, the number of hedgerows increased during part of that time. Sportsmen tend to prefer the more easily managed French variety. Most importantly, there has been a large rise in the grey partridge's natural predators. Another example is that of the barn owl, which flourishes on grassy banks where its prey lives.
I am a land manager who has planted, renovated and laid hedges as well as removing some hedges. At the end of the day, my aim is to enhance the landscape of our countryside in a beneficial way and to ensure that our landscape is not a decaying museum piece but a working, evolving landscape. I believe that land managers who live on their property and, most importantly, operate profitably, best do this. Subsidies given for conservation do not necessarily make land managers begin conservation work, but they do enable them to do considerably more than they would have done in the first place. Cross-compliance is not the way forward.
If the public wish further to enhance the landscape, then surely the public must bear some of the finance. I therefore question whether any more bureaucratic and expensive protection is necessary. Land managers require more advice, training and incentive and better farm profitability. I am sure that the Government will tell us when they intend to come forward with their conclusions on the 1997 hedgerow consultations.
I should like to go over one or two points that were made in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, suggested that local authorities are responsible for the inside of hedges next to highways. I believe that the land beneath these hedges belongs to the farmer. I suggest that the hedges are the responsibility of the farmer. However, if that is not the case, one must surely ask whether those local authorities will help to finance the maintenance and laying of those hedges. I rather suspect that they will not.
Finally, on a more interesting point, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford referred to hideous oilseed rape. I have to agree with him because it is not really a conservative colour. It reminds me too much of the Liberal Democrats. It looks like they are canvassing around the countryside. However, I should like to point out that oilseed rape is an important crop. It produces oils not only for animal consumption but for human consumption. Most importantly, it produces extremely high quality oils used in cars which replace those unfriendly oils that are produced from minerals. It can also be used most advantageously for producing diesel.
I took over a bankrupt estate at the beginning of the 1970s. Had it not been for the grants available at that time, the turn-around of that estate into a viable farming operation would have been nigh on impossible and I could not have fulfilled the call for "more food from our own resources". I admit that with those grants of between 40 and 60 per cent, whether they were in the form of the earlier farm capital grant or the later farm and horticultural grant scheme of the European Union era, huge changes were made to the farm; not only in terms of providing drainage to nearly all the land, but also with regard to the realignment of hedges and the scrubbing of hedges to create the needed efficiencies of modern farming methods. Farmers were paid to remove hedges and increase production.
Where some farmers can be blamed is for the neglect of thousands of miles of hedges, or of stone walls, or of fencing generally. It is true that much grassland has been lost to cereal production, but farmers, whether tenants or landlords, should be caring guardians and trustees of that land for future generations. Farming is going through an extraordinarily difficult time, but hedges have been degenerating since the Second World War. It is interesting to note that one hectare of land is equivalent to six kilometres of hedge.
It is true, too, that more diverse species can be used in new planting. This will help to reverse the decline of tree sparrows, grey partridge, turtle doves and red bunting, to name but a few birds that specifically use hedgerows. Those hedgerow birds have had the highest percentage rate of decline, ranging from minus 64 per cent to a staggering minus 87 per cent loss between 1971 and 1996. Those figures come from the British Trust for Ornithology and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.
The work carried out by the Council for the Protection of Rural England to review the impact and effectiveness of the hedgerow legislation has shown some interesting trends. The snapshot created by its work shows the relationship between hedgerow legislation, which uses a centrally determined definition of importance, and the great diversity of hedgerows across the country. It presents the first regional view of how the hedgerow regulations are being implemented across England, illustrating significant differences in the regional distribution of hedgerow removal. The information gathered highlights the lack of effective protection afforded to local hedgerows by the hedgerow regulations and reinforces the need for a wholesale revision of their operation to ensure that decisions regarding hedgerow removal are sensitive to local character and distinctiveness.
So what are needed are clearer environmental objectives, supported by sensible advice, information and incentives, with farmers and managers being involved in habitat action plans and Agenda 21 local biodiversity plans.
National parks provide an example of inadequate protection. I declare an interest as a vice-president of National Parks. Hedgerows and stone walls must be seen in a broader context, taking in the landscape, of which they are, and should be, an integral part. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, mention the 25th anniversary of the national parks. In fact, it is the 50th anniversary.
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