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Hedgerows: Protection

Volume 548: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1993

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2.55 p.m.

How they propose to protect important hedges as part of the wider countryside under the habitats and species directive and whether they intend to introduce legislation.

My Lords, our proposals to implement the directive will be issued shortly. We recognise the importance of hedgerows and are committed to measures to preserve them. A number of initiatives have already been introduced to protect hedgerows and to encourage their restoration and management.

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that it will be introduced shortly. Can the Minister say in what form it will be introduced? In view of the 20 per cent. loss of hedgerows over the past 10 years, and in view of the failure of a large number of ecological measures—for example, the 5 per cent. loss per annum of sites of scientific interest—is it not essential that any measures are introduced through both Houses of Parliament? Your Lordships and Members in another place can then comment and amend them.

My Lords, the directive must be in place by June 1994. We are working to put in place our administrative and regulatory measures by then. Article 10 merely seeks to exhort member states to encourage the management of landscape features such as hedgerows. We believe we are already doing that.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in Huntingdonshire in the past 48 years nearly 1,000 miles of hedgerows have been destroyed? While I welcome what my noble friend said in regard to the Government's efforts under present powers to halt that process, can he say to what extent the giving of grants to plant fresh hedgerows is retrieving the situation?

My Lords, my noble friend is correct that there is a problem, not just in Huntingdonshire but also in many other parts of the country. Between 1984 and 1990 it is estimated that 16,000 miles of hedgerows were removed. We have various grant schemes, particularly the hedgerow incentive scheme which is designed to encourage people to plant more hedges. We hope in the autumn to be able to celebrate the 1,000th mile of new hedge.

My Lords, did I understand the Minister to refer to the management of hedgerows in his Answer? Is he aware of the research done by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology which said that the quality of hedges is as important as the quantity? Can he reassure the House that the management of hedgerows will be considered?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. Under grant schemes such as the farm and conservation grant scheme, and also under cross-compliance conditions and a number of schemes such as set-aside, and in environmentally sensitive areas, hedgerows have to be managed.

My Lords, there are a number of definitions of "important hedges". I believe that all hedges are important because they are essential to the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of species.

My Lords, I shall be interested to know what the word "protect" covers. My noble friend Lady Nicol raised a relevant point. Half the environmental people want hedges beautifully trimmed and kept down and others would like to see them shoot through the roof. I was in trouble recently for cutting a hedge too low, the spread of which was nearly a yard in a 150-acre field.

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct in saying that there are some differences of opinion on the management of hedges. The reason Peter Ainsworth's Private Member's Bill in another place failed was because that situation could not be resolved.

My Lords, are we now clear from the noble Lord's response to my last question on common land—that there would be no quick consultation and no legislation—that the Government are considering further legislation on the question of hedgerows? The noble Lord quite rightly pointed out that the Hedgerows Bill was talked out by Conservative Back-Benchers in another place. Did that Bill have the support of the Department of the Environment? If it had the support of the Department of the Environment, as I believe is the case, will the Department of the Environment now bring forward that Bill as a Government Bill into the next Session?

My Lords, the Ainsworth Bill certainly had the full support of the Government. But what the process in another place demonstrated is that there were some very important issues which were extremely difficult to resolve and that perhaps legislation itself is not the best way to go forward.

My Lords, are there any cases where a farmer might take out a hedge in order to improve his efficiency, or perhaps the view, provided he plants another hedge, or is he totally prohibited from cutting down any hedge?

My Lords, at present there is no prohibition to removing hedges. That is why the issue is so live at the moment.

My Lords, on a lighter note, is my noble friend aware of the saying that as one travels north in Great Britain "Where the hedges stop, the sense begins"?