Farmers offered cash to save hedges

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Indy Politics
FOR THE FIRST time farmers can be paid government money for looking after the nation's dwinding stock of hedgerows. Less than 20 years ago the Ministry of Agriculture was still paying them to grub up hedges in order to increase food production.

Yesterday, at a farm near Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, David Maclean, Minister of State for the Environment and Countryside, launched a grants scheme intended to restore damaged, degraded hedgerows and maintain them as landscape features and wildlife havens.

The National Farmers' Union and countryside campaigners welcomed this but said the Government was pumping in too little money to make much difference.

According to the Government's Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, 2,000 miles of hedgerows were removed each year during the 1980s, while a further 6,000 miles are damaged by neglect. About 20 per cent were lost in all.

Hedgerows are becoming overgrown or degenerating into clumps of gap-ridden shrubs and trees. The Countryside Commission, which is running the new scheme, believes that it will restore up to 400 miles of hedge a year. Farmers taking part must enter into 10-year agreements. They will receive payments for initial restoration work on hedges and for longer-term maintenance - pounds 1.75 for each metre of gap filled and pounds 2 per metre for the traditional practice of hedge-laying. There are payments of up to pounds 1.20 a metre for fencing that stops livestock from damaging young hedges, and 65p for each hedgerow tree planted. The Government has earmarked pounds 3.5m in incentives for the first three years.

Campaigning groups have long maintained that penalties as well as incentives were needed to save hedgerows. They wanted legislation that would prevent farmers from destroying the best hedgerows, in addition to the incentive grants.

After waiting for years for a promised government Bill, which never came, they are now pinning their hopes on a Private Member's Bill from Peter Ainsworth, the Tory MP for Surrey East, which has government support.

This would make it compulsory for landowners to notify local planning officers of any intention to destroy a hedgerow.