DAERA hedgerow compliance

Hedges are an incredible asset to our farms, providing shelter to livestock, capturing carbon and providing food and shelter for a significant proportion of our wildlife.

CAFRE Biodiversity Technologist Robert Beggs explained: “Hedgerows are priority habitats in Northern Ireland and the importance is reinforced by the fact that three quarters of all lowland farm bird species are to be found predominantly in hedges, along with neighbouring woodland and scrub.”

Due to the high value of hedges to the NI landscape and nature, the retention of field boundaries as landscape features is part of cross compliance requirements. Under GAEC 7 of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) a farmer is not allowed to remove a landscape feature, invariably a hedge, without written permission from DAERA. Penalties are applied where hedgerows have been removed without permission.

Robert recently met up with Kevin O’Donnell of DAERA’s Integrated Control Branch for an update on GAEC 7 compliance and the permissions process.

An ortho photo showing mature hedge sections before an application for hedge removal. Any hedge removal is easily identified on the DAERA system

Kevin said that: “Each year DAERA receives updated satellite images for a third of Northern Ireland’s fields.

“This means that every three years the images of all NI fields are updated. The technology used to take the images is able to compare them with the images taken from previous years.

“If the technology picks up changes in a farm’s field boundaries then it is highlighted for further checks. DAERA are currently reviewing a significant increase in the number of cases which were highlighted in 2021. Where a hedge has been removed without permission, a breach of Cross Compliance will be raised and an associated penalty will be applied to the farmer’s Area Based Payment.”

“In addition to technology, DAERA farm inspectors are required to check for unauthorised hedge removal. DAERA regularly receives reports of hedges and trees being removed from increasingly environmentally aware members of the public. This information is passed to the inspection team that deals with hedges to establish if the farmer has removed a hedge without approval.”

An ortho photo from three years later showing permitted hedge removal sections on the south and west boundaries

Kevin identified that many farmers do seek written permission from DAERA to remove a hedge. He went on to say that “agreement is normally reached where the farmer will carry out mitigation work to offset the loss of the landscape feature. In many cases this will be the planting of an equivalent length of new hedge. An inspection is carried out at a later date to ensure that the mitigation has been completed successfully.”

More information is available at: www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/applying-derogation-remove-hedge and an application form for a derogation to remove a hedge is available at: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/field-boundary-hedge-removal-application