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Farmers want funding to extend hedgerow network

Farming and Hedgerows Report Farming and Hedgerows Report

6th December 2022

Farmers want funding to extend hedgerow network and boost nature, shows CPRE survey

  • Almost 90% of farmers say hedgerows are important to them and their business, with the vast majority calling for more government support
  • As the government finalises details of ELMs funding, 70% of farmers say they’d plant more hedgerows given the right incentives
  • Providing a vital nature corridor on farms was seen as the top benefit of hedgerows, followed by shelter for crops and livestock
  • Eight in ten farmers support a target to increase hedgerows by 40% by 2050 as a key climate and nature recovery goal 

There is overwhelming support among farmers for the government to introduce a target to expand the country’s hedgerow network. A nationwide survey showed the vast majority of farmers and land managers responding also want the government to properly fund the target, which is 40% more hedgerows by 2050, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee. 

The findings show farmers are keenly aware of the benefits of revitalising nature on their land. More than 1,100 farmers surveyed by Farmers Weekly, on behalf of CPRE, the countryside charity, revealed a lack of funding was by far the biggest obstacle to planting and maintaining hedgerows. This is despite wildlife and nature corridors being seen as the greatest benefit of hedgerows by almost nine in ten farmers. Other benefits include providing shelter or shade for crops or livestock, providing a home for pollinators and pest predators – and more than half of farmers simply recognising that hedgerows enhance the beauty of the countryside. Read the full Farming and hedgerows report

Responses to the survey represent a broad cross section of farmers and land managers working across all regions, types and sizes of farm business. Key findings include: 

  • The vast majority (86%) of farmers say that hedgerows are important to them and their business;
  • Overall, six in ten have planted some hedgerows in the past ten years;
  • 70% of respondents cited cost as the biggest barrier to planting hedgerows, while the same percentage would plant more hedgerows with improved government incentives;
  • 86% of farmers surveyed see wildlife habitat/nature corridors as the top benefit of having hedgerows;
  • Overwhelming support for a new government target of 40% more hedgerows by 2050, with 8 in 10 backing this recommendation from CPRE.  

The popularity of hedgerows among farmers suggests they could become a torchbearer of the government’s new Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs). The new schemes promise public money for public goods but over the past few weeks ELMs has been under review. Most farms across the country have some hedgerows, making them an ideal entry point to the new land management schemes if the government delivers practical funding options that complement current farming practices. 

   

Tom Fyans, interim chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:   

  

‘Farmers could not have been clearer about the value they place on hedgerows - they really care about supporting wildlife and nature on their land. The government needs to tap into their enthusiasm by using ELMs to provide simple, accessible schemes that support farmers to look after their hedgerows for everyone’s benefit. 

‘The hedgerow network, in its expanse, is our largest ‘nature reserve’. It provides forage, shelter and shade for animals; habitat for pollinators and pest predators; and absorbs carbon emissions while helping prevent both drought and flooding. That’s why CPRE is calling on the government to commit to the target of 40% more hedgerows by 2050.’ 

  

Private finance, possibly in the form of carbon credits, was identified as a significant opportunity for future hedgerow funding. A small majority of farmers said they currently received some form of government support for hedgerow planting, often from Countryside Stewardship funding. However, over a quarter had access to private funding. 

CPRE recommends the government explores how private funding, such as hedgerow carbon credits, or from water companies wanting to improve water quality, could help support farmers to deliver a major hedgerow planting programme. Ministers are well placed to create the right frameworks to channel public and private funding to support farmers to invest in their hedgerows to benefit farming, nature, landscape and climate.   

Further recommendations include: 

  • Set a national target to increase the hedgerow network by 40% by 2050, as recommended by the UK Climate Change Committee, in the 25-Year Environmental Improvement Plan; 
  • Ensure ELMs provide a straightforward, accessible and flexible entry level offer to farmers that properly rewards and supports healthy hedgerows, with widespread take-up; and 
  • Advice, training and skills development in hedgerow management included in ELMs funding, particularly for farmers who want to manage their hedgerows as a whole-farm network to create a mosaic of hedgerow habitats; and to work with neighbouring farmers to restore hedgerows on a landscape scale. 

Philip Henneman, Dorset CPRE Topic Lead on Hedgerows, said:

‘This national survey shows just how truly our farmers are the worthy custodians of the English countryside. Government financial engagement with the aims of CPRE’s 40 by 50 campaign would enable an historic turn-around in fortunes for the humble hedge, its wildlife, the countryside, and the wider environment.’

John Calder owns farmland in West Dorset, is participating in the Sustainable Farming Incentive Pilot (the fundamental element of ELMs) and has been working directly with DEFRA (the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs) on the Hedgerows Practitioners Work Group (the potential powerhouse for innovation in ELMs co-design). He is also the driver behind the ambitious Great Big Dorset Hedge survey, a Dorset CAN campaign, which has begun to chart the current status of hedgerows in Dorset which has been strongly supported by Dorset CPRE. John says: 

‘Nobody should underestimate the enormity of the challenge DEFRA faces when catering for the wide variety of contradictory stakeholder inputs as they design the ELM scheme. Nor should they imagine that the DEFRA staff deployed to do this are lacking in diligence. However much more work needs to be done to the Hedgerow component of ELMs for it to be fit for purpose.

  • We still need DEFRA to provide farmers with real incentive to prioritize the planting of new hedgerows, and not just a partial subsidy.
  • The ELMs payments should clearly differentiate between rewards for well-maintained hedges and rewards for neglected hedges.
  • Payments made should be based on the value of public goodsprovided rather than the wholly inappropriate historic basis of ‘income foregone plus costs’.

It is to be hoped that DEFRA pays close attention to this very welcome report from the CPRE where finally clarity of purpose could be found. The changes listed above, if adopted, would help to make ELM the successful scheme for hedgerows that clearly so many farmers would want it to be. John Calder was also interview on Shaftesbury Radio, listen here to the 12 minute podcast recording.

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