Defra CAP update brings hope of a change on hedge-cutting rules

NFU vice president Guy Smith. Picture: Denise Bradley

NFU vice president Guy Smith. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2012

The government has announced it is considering a relaxation of hedge-cutting rules, after publishing its latest guidance on changes to EU farm payments and environmental rules.

Defra's decision to ban hedge-cutting in August in order to protect nesting birds provoked an angry reaction from farmers who routinely cut hedges during that month.

But the department's third advice leaflet on the reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), published this week, says ministers are working on a derogation which will 'allow the cutting of hedges in some prescribed circumstances during August, for farmers intending to sow oilseed rape or temporary grass during that month'.

If approval for the derogation is given, it will be reviewed after one year to assess its impact. More details are expected to follow soon.

The updated guidance includes more information on what size hedges need to be to qualify as Ecological Focus Areas under the new 'greening' requirements.

There is also an update on how farmers can prove they are meeting crop diversification rules if they are sowing crops after the inspection period of 1 May to 30 June.

The Defra advice says: 'Some farmers will grow late-sown crops or crops with a very short cropping period. These may not be visible (or present) at the exact time of the inspection.

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'We're still talking to the European Commission about what sort of evidence we can accept if RPA inspects and a farmer hasn't planted their crops in the ground at the time of inspection. We are also still talking to them about what will happen if crops fail during the inspection period.'

Meanwhile, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) says the government must prove it has a robust new IT system in place to administer farm payments from next year.

NFU vice president Guy Smith said: 'In the next six months or so, farmers and growers will be grappling with the new rules and a new registration process and online-only system of applying for payments.

'It is clear that farmers and growers are seeking reassurances from Defra. No-one should underestimate the challenges faced in switching to the new system.'

The updated CAP leaflet can be downloaded from