Hedgerows are not only a stock proof barrier, but also vital for wildlife and effective in reducing pollution and flooding. New grants are available to help preserve this important feature of the rural landscape.
Hedges are an important part of the South West landscape, providing a stock proof barrier and vital habitat for wildlife, they also help reduce pollution and flooding. The Government recognises the significance of hedges which are over 30 years old and as a result many are protected dependent on their length, location and ‘importance’.
Winter heralds hedge cutting season (1st September – 28/29 February), as the sap is not running through the plant stems. This is also a time when birds are not nesting. Historically hedges have been laid but this is not a cheap or easy process. Hedge laying is a traditional skill which takes time to master and has its own regional terminology such as Steeper (the semi-cut part of the stem that allows the branch to bend and lay – a term used in Devon). Many Young Farmers Clubs and Agricultural Societies promote hedge-laying with annual matches and hedge laying taster days, in order ‘to keep alive the skills and craftsmanship traditionally used in the conservation of hedgerows’ according to the Melplash Agricultural Society.
Hedge laying is preferable to other forms of hedge maintenance as it promotes regrowth from ground level and ensures the longevity of the hedgerow. More intensive farming practices and larger holdings have led to a rise in machine cutting which is quicker and cheaper. However, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology states ‘Less than half of UK hedges are in good condition (with few vertical gaps, a minimum height of 1m and width of 1.5m) partly due to over-frequent trimming with mechanised flails.’
To encourage farmers to restore boundaries and manage their hedges in traditional ways, the Government has created the Countryside Stewardship Hedgerow and Boundary grant. Eligible farmers can choose from a range of capital options, including hedgerow laying. The grants are for 2 years and capital items funded through the scheme must be kept for 5 years. In 2019 the payment rate was £9.40 per metre for hedgerow laying with a maximum grant of £10,000. In these times of economic uncertainty, financial help towards such projects is invaluable.
The grants are competitive but in our experience the majority of eligible applicants are likely to be successful. The application process has also been made easier as applications can be made online. Farmers can choose specific hedgerows/ boundaries to enter into the scheme, it doesn’t have to impact the whole farm and the grants can usually run in conjunction with other Countryside Stewardship grants. This means there are few downsides to making an application.
The New Year should beckon a new round of funding. It is anticipated, as in previous years, applications will open in February for Hedgerow and Boundary grants. We would encourage farmers to make the most of these existing grant schemes. The National Hedge Laying Society claim ‘A laid hedge provides a stock proof barrier and a dense habitat for wildlife but most importantly it encourages new growth that starts a new life cycle of the hedge’.
Photo credit -Tim Russ