HL Deb 22 July 1994 vol 557 cc56-8WA
Lord Lyell

asked Her Majesty's Government: What steps they have taken to monitor hedgerows.

Viscount Ullswater

The Government are pleased to announce the results of the survey we commissioned recently from the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology to provide an up-to-date picture of changes in the numbers of hedgerows in the countryside of England and Wales. By using comparable methodology to Countryside Survey 90, this most recent study enables a comparison to be made between changes recorded during the period 1984–90 and those during the period 1990–93.

The results show that the annual rate of hedgerow removal has declined from 9,500 km per year in 1984– 90; to 3,600 km per year during 1990–93. Expressed as a percentage of existing hedgerow stock, this represents a halving of the rate at which hedges are being grubbed up, from 1.7 per cent. to 0.8 per cent. per year. Furthermore, the annual gains from hedge planting have more than doubled from 1,900 km per year during 1984–90 to 4,400 km per year during 1990–93. The rate of removal is now outweighed by the rate of new planting.

The downward trend in hedgerow removal is welcome, and is consistent with the change in agricultural policies in recent years towards greater emphasis on care of the countryside. Schemes such as Environmentally Sensitive Areas, introduced in 1987, Countryside Stewardship, launched in 1991 and Tir Cymen (in Wales), launched in 1992, have encouraged the conservation of hedgerows.

While these results provide good evidence that widespread removal in the countryside is not the problem it was, nevertheless some 3,600 km of hedgerow on average are being removed annually. We remain committed to protecting hedges of key importance, and we are therefore considering carefully how to focus protection on the highly valuable hedges, for which no amount of replanting can substitute—for example, an ancient parish boundary hedge.

The survey reveals that changes in hedgerow stocks have also occurred as a result of changes in management. 22,500 km per year became classified as relict hedges during 1990–93, as compared with 7,400 km per year during 1984–90. Such changes occurred where hedges ceased to be cut and managed as hedges and grew into lines of bushes or trees. This trend was offset in part by restoration of relict hedges, which increased from 2,400 km per year to 5,700 km per year. For the future, the Hedgerow Incentive Scheme, which was launched in England in 1992, and the Hedgerow Restoration Scheme in Wales, should increasingly work with the Farm and Conservation Grant Scheme and the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme to encourage retention in active management of hedgerows of particular historic, wildlife or landscape value.