HC Deb 01 December 1988 vol 142 cc859-60
2. Mr. Hardy

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement with regard to the destruction of countryside hedgerows during the last five years.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Richard Ryder)

There have been hedgerow removals in recent years as a result of changing agricultural circumstances and development such as road schemes and housing. There are no clear details on the extent of those removals.

Countryside hedgerows provide a wide variety of benefits to the environment and agriculture. I am very keen to discourage their removal or deterioration. Their value depends on positive action and sympathetic management to keep them in good condition. My Department provides capital grants at favourable rates for the laying of hedges and planting of new ones, as well as advice to farmers on hedgerow management.

Mr. Hardy

Can the Minister deny that, since the Government blocked my perfectly sensible and responsible Hedgerows Bill five years ago, thousands of miles of hedgerows, much of them established and important, have been destroyed? In view of the Prime Minister's recent pronouncements on the importance and attractiveness of the British hedgerow, may I take it that when I again present the Bill next month the Government will take a different view?

Mr. Ryder

I do not believe that legislation in this sphere would be effective, because it cannot be properly policed. Nevertheless, because I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said on the subject over many years, and because, during the past month, I have twice met representatives of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, to discuss the issue, I would be more than happy to talk to him if we could get together in my office during the next week or two.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I was extremely glad to hear what my hon. Friend had to say about the Government's attitude to hedgerows. He knows the importance of hedgerows for wildlife, ranging from hares to partridges, to small birds and butterflies. I am not convinced that, as it exists at present, the grant system is adequate to persuade people to put in more hedgerows. Particularly in the light of the set-aside proposals, will he review the grant system and see whether something can be done to improve it?

Mr. Ryder

Only last Monday my right hon. Friend the Minister announced a new scheme—the farm and conservation grant scheme which increases hedgerow grants from 30 to 40 per cent. in lowland areas, where losses have been the most severe. I urge as many farmers as possible to take advantage of the scheme.