Commission changes subsidy rules to save hedgerows

The European Commission has put forward a revision to the rules on farm aid designed to protect traditional farmland features, such as ditches, walls and hedgerows.

Under the revised rules, farmers in European Member States can base their claims for farm aid on their full field areas, including field margin features, such as hedgerows, which exceed two metres in width, provided they are traditionally part of good agricultural practice. Farmers are now permitted to include uncultivated field margins which are combined with large old hedges in their subsidy claims.

“Hedgerows often play an important environmental role and are part of a longstanding farming tradition, in particular in the UK,” said European Farm Commissioner, Franz Fischler. “The Commission has made a major effort to find a clear legislative solution. I think we have found a fair deal. In short, British hedgerows are safe – no farmer should feel motivated to cut them down.”

In the past, the UK Agriculture Ministry (MAFF) used its discretion to take advantage of the grey areas in the subsidy rules to allow claims on hedgerows and field margins because of their importance to the countryside, a MAFF spokesperson told edie. The problem has been that other Member States, find it difficult to grasp the need for the extension of subsidies to include hedgerows because, apart from France, they don’t have such features, the spokesperson explained. Excessively wide margins and large uncultivated features such as ponds are still not eligible for inclusion.

“I am sure the farming industry, environmental organisations and the many members of the public who have been concerned about the potential threat to the countryside and its biodiversity which would have resulted form a strict application of the so called two-metre rule will welcome this outcome,” said MAFF Better Regulation Minister Joyce Quin.

“We were much reassured when the Commissioner [Franz Fischler] made specific mention of the need to take account of traditional landscape features such as hedges when he brought forward plans for an initiative on simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy at the October Agriculture Council,” continued the Minister. “We see this rule change as the first fruit of this initiative and one which will help industry and enhance our environmental heritage. We will work constructively with the Commission and other Member States on further proposals for simplification.”

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