The new rules for hedgerows

Farmers and land managers in England should note the latest changes from Defra when managing hedgerows on their land. Bethany Turner reveals the CLA’s view on new regulations
Midlands fields.jpg

Last week, the UK Government made the new Management of Hedgerows (England) Regulations 2024 law. For farmers who received the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), the regulations will be familiar as they retain the previous cross-compliance regulations. However, the rules will now apply to hedgerows on all agricultural land, regardless of whether they receive government funding or previously received BPS.

What do the regulations cover?

Buffer strips

The new rules will replicate the existing requirements for a two-metre buffer strip (measured from the centre of the hedge) where no fertiliser or pesticides are allowed other than spot application for invasive weeds.

However, there are exemptions for fields under two hectares, and for hedges under five years old.

No cutting period

The existing no cutting period of 1 March to 31 August will remain, as will the various exemptions, which include maintaining a public right of way and coppicing a hedge.

The CLA was pleased to see the introduction of a streamlined process for notifying the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) when a hedge needs to be cut in August to sow oilseed rape or temporary grass, which was a key CLA recommendation. Rather than waiting for approval from the RPA, which was the system under cross-compliance, the regulations will instead require a written notification to the RPA and retention of evidence such as photographs.

Enforcement and role of the RPA

The RPA will provide guidance on compliance with the regulations and will be responsible for enforcement.

The Defra position is that the RPA will be focussing on advice and prevention, before resorting to the use of sanctions. However, the regulation introduces both civil and criminal sanctions to allow the RPA to take action against land managers causing repeated or serious damage.

The legislation will introduce the following enforcement routes:

  • Stop notices
  • Compliance notices
  • Restoration notices
  • Variable monetary penalties

What’s new?

The biggest change is that the new regulations apply to all hedges on agricultural land, regardless of whether you currently receive (or have previously received) government funding. This means that farmers who never received BPS, and therefore were never required to follow cross-compliance requirements, must now adhere to the law.

CLA analysis

Defra’s consultation proposed continuing the cross-compliance requirements by introducing them into domestic legislation, but also considered increasing the level of protection. The consultation received 8,841 responses, highlighting the level of interest in hedgerow protections.

The CLA was supportive of retaining the two-metre buffer strip and the no cutting period remaining from 1 March to 31 August. We stressed the need for exemptions for fields under two hectares and for hedgerows under five years old.

The CLA also lobbied for farms under five hectares to be exempt. We were the only key stakeholder who supported this exemption, which 86% of consultation respondents opposed. Consequently, there is no exemption for small farms and the regulations will apply regardless of size.

Key contact:

Bethany Turner headshot
Bethany Turner CLA Environment Policy Adviser, London