ENGLISH hedgerows will be protected in law as the government sets out its plans for domestic hedgerow regulations, following a consultation last year.

Backed by more than 95 per cent of consultation responses, and providing continuity for farmers and land managers, the regulations will include a two metre “buffer strip” from the centre of hedgerows with no cultivation or application of pesticides or fertilisers, and a hedge cutting ban between March 1 and August 31 to protect nesting birds.

A fairer, more proportionate enforcement approach focused on outcomes will see farmers provided with advice to help them comply with requirements – very different from the approach seen previously.

The regulations will support the efforts of many farmers already carrying out vital work to protect hedgerows, providing important ecological benefits including wildlife habitats, slowing soil erosion and water run-off, supporting crop pollinators and absorbing carbon.

This includes more than 90,000km of hedgerows being managed through 16,000 agreements in the government’s Countryside Stewardship and Sustainable Farming Incentive schemes, and more than 13,000km of hedgerows created or restored using Countryside Stewardship grants.

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “Farmers have been protecting, planting and maintaining our hedgerows for centuries and I want to thank them for their continued efforts to help wildlife thrive on their farms alongside food production.

“I am delighted that thousands of farmers are taking up the support and guidance on offer in our Countryside Stewardship and Sustainable Farming Incentive schemes.”

Almost 9,000 consultation responses were received and highlighted clear support from farmers and environmental groups for hedgerows to be protected in law.

Alongside the two metre buffer strips and spring/summer hedge cutting ban, the government will also introduce a streamlined notification process for farmers needing an exemption to cut or trim hedges in August if they are sowing oilseed rape or temporary grass.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Hedgerows have long-shaped our beautiful countryside and provide homes for a huge variety of birds and wildlife, while delivering clear benefits for water, soil and the climate.

“Our consultation showed just how valued our hedgerows are by farmers, the public and environmental groups alike, and these regulations will mean we can all reap the benefits they bring for generations to come.”

The government says the new requirements will be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time allows and will be regulated by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), who will provide advice and guidance to help farmers comply with the regulations.

The government will also introduce civil and criminal sanctions to enable the RPA to take appropriate and proportionate actions against anyone causing serious or repeated damage.

The government says it will launch a consultation and work with farmers and environmental groups to inform the statutory guidance that will be used to enforce the regulations.

These regulations will sit alongside the existing Hedgerows Regulations 1997 which prohibit the removal of countryside hedgerows, or parts of them, without first seeking approval from the Local Planning Authority.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 meanwhile prohibits the killing, injuring or taking of wild birds, or taking or damaging their eggs and nests.

The full government response and summary of responses has been published online.