HL Deb 21 October 1991 vol 531 cc127-8WA
Lord Swinfen

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What information is available on hedgerow loss and what are their proposals to protect hedgerows.

Baroness Blatch

The Government's commitment to protecting key hedgerows was demonstrated in our White PaperThis Common Inheritance. In December we issued a consultation paper and in July we announced revised proposals for helping to conserve and enhance this important feature of the countryside. In parallel, we have also been seeking to update and improve our information. We are now able to announce the results of new studies showing the current stock of hedgerows in Great Britain. These derive from the Countryside Survey 1990, a survey of land cover in Great Britain, funded jointly by the Department of the Environment and the Natural Environment Research Council. The survey was conducted to rigorous scientific and statistical standards and a report—prepared by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology—detailing the main findings on hedgerows has been lodged in the Library of the House.

In 1984 there was a total length of 410,000 km of hedgerows in England. By 1990 some 39,000 km—10 per cent.—of hedgerows had been removed (excluding losses from built development). However, a key finding from the report is the dramatic increase in new planting: almost 20,000 km in England during that period. This trend has been encouraged by grants to farmers from MAFF—first introduced in 1973. In the period 1978–84, the rate of planting in England averaged 530 km per annum, but the new survey shows that in the next six years the rate increased sixfold—to 3,300 km per annum. This is a positive development, and means that farmers and landowners are now replacing a substantial part of the total of hedgerows removed annually.

Corresponding figures for Wales show a broadly similar pattern. From a total hedgerow stock of 71,000 km, 6,800 km of hedgerows were removed in 1984–1990; but during the same period 3,400 km were created.

But there is no room for complacency. Despite the Government's success in stimulating an increased rate of planting, there has been a net removal of hedgerows—3,300 km per annum in England between 1984–90; in Wales 600 km per annum. The survey also shows a decline in the quality of some hedgerows. For the first time, figures are available on losses caused by lack of long-term management, which confirm that this process—rather than deliberate removal—is the main factor putting hedgerows at risk.

In England, in the six years to 1990, 78,000 km of hedgerows declined in quality to the extent that they could no longer be classed as true hedgerows. This was to some extent offset by some 18,000 km of formerly derelict hedgerows brought back into active management. In Wales the equivalent figures are 17,000 km and 3,000 km respectively. This suggests that lack of management has produced a countryside in which derelict hedgerows composed of trees or isolated shrubs have become increasingly common. Though there can be some environmental benefits from leaving hedgerows uncut for a certain period of time, the eventual result of protracted management neglect is hedgerow loss. In addition, within the remaining stock there are also signs of deterioration. Taking these losses from poor management into account, the nett loss of hedgerows in England from all causes during the period 1984–90 totalled 85,000 km (Wales 18,000 km), or 21 per cent. of the total hedgerow stock (Wales 25 per cent.).

These findings emphasise the vital importance of taking urgent steps to promote improved management. The Government have therefore announced that we would be introducing a new incentives scheme to this end. These payments will be in addition to those already offered by MAFF and the other agriculture departments. The aim will be to encourage the rejuvenation of hedgerows—bringing them back into positive management by making payments to assist with coppicing, laying and other environmentally beneficial works. We are already in discussion with the Countryside Commission and others on ways in which such a scheme could be implemented and we hope to make a further announcement as soon as possible.

In Wales the Welsh Office will be considering proposals from the Countryside Council for Wales on introducing their own scheme to provide incentives for hedgerow management, as part of their plans for promoting countryside stewardship.