MP for Copeland gave a passionate speech on the importance of hedgerows at a Westminster Hall debate on Hedgerows: Legal Protection, last week.
Trudy Harrison MP, Former Defra Minister said that hedgerows provide real benefit to nature and help to contribute to the halting of nature’s decline.
Trudy commended Defra recognising the benefits of stone walls, because in areas such as Copeland, due to their importance for biodiversity, and the windbreaks and shelters also provided by hedgerows.
“I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), because I know from prior experience as the DEFRA Minister responsible for nature that she really is a hedgerow hero. She was persistent and effective in implementing increased recognition across DEFRA of the importance of hedgerows. That was certainly recognised by Ministers, including my good friend the Minister for Nature, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), and the Farming Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), and by all the officials working for DEFRA, and by Natural England and the Forestry Commission.
I am delighted that we published the environmental improvement plan on 31 January 2023 because it really recognised, across 277 pages, what we are doing to halt the decline of nature by 2030 and increase its abundance thereafter. Hedgerows most certainly featured in that, and the revised standards earlier this year featured not just their planting and protection, but their management and assessment and the earthy banks on which they grow. I commend DEFRA for recognising the benefits of stone walls, because in areas such as mine in Copeland, across the Lake District and throughout Cumbria, stone walls are incredibly important for biodiversity and provide the windbreaks and shelters also provided by hedgerows. I am really pleased that DEFRA has recognised that they are more than just something for our much-appreciated tourists to enjoy. They are more than the cultural landscape: they actually provide a real benefit for nature and will help to contribute to the halting of nature’s decline, which is so important.
Think about the hedgerows that have featured across our landscape for thousands of years, initially formed for windbreaks, as divisions and as shelters. To divide the land in such a cost-effective, long-living, bountiful and beautiful way was a wonderful thing that our ancestors did. Grubbing up may have been Government policy many decades ago when the priority was to feed our nation in post-war Britain, but we have come a long way in appreciating that it was a bad idea to sacrifice hedgerows. I would argue that it was one of the worst environmental harms that our country has done to the countryside.
It is right to have an emphasis on farms and farmers, because on our relatively small island, which is densely populated, about 70% of our land is agricultural—is farmed land, so if we are truly to see the benefits that we need for biodiversity, it is right that ELMS and that £2.4 billion investment from Government prioritises farmed land. We are catching up, because the environmental improvement plan introduced that commitment to the planting of more hedgerows, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon set out, and the increased protections. I look forward to confirmation of that.
The new and improved standards will take us a long way, and there are now fantastic examples of farmers coming together. I give a particular shout-out to my farmers in the West Lakeland Community Interest Company, consisting of 50 or so farmers who have come together because they recognise that they can play a key part, predominantly in the Wasdale and Ennerdale area of west Cumbria, which is a truly outstanding landscape—Britain’s best view and Britain’s best farmers.
The farmers in the CIC recognise that working together, featuring more hedgerows and looking after the water quality in the area will not just be of benefit to nature and our environment, but make good business sense for them. The reason they see the business opportunities is that, across DEFRA, we have recognised the benefits of nature-based policies. One that I will reference now is biodiversity net gain. In early February, I hope, biodiversity net gain will be coming out for large developers, and for other developers thereafter. That will drive further appreciation of hedgerows—of not taking them out in the first place; of ensuring that they are protected during development, in that two-year window; and of putting hedgerows back in, because the credits for hedgerow planting are considerable.
I also draw the House’s attention to the benefits of gardeners and the role that gardening can play to increase hedgerows. To replace a fence with a hedgerow will go far in carbon sequestering, in cooling and in air quality. Hedgerows also offer a fantastic benefit for pollution capture, in particular in urban areas where about 10% of hedgerows are found. Hedgerows are of course bountiful —we can all forage from and enjoy them, and wildlife can forage and enjoy the shelter that hedgerows bring—and let us not forget their benefits in preventing soil erosion, as hedgerows will prevent flooding because their roots dig deep into the ground. The reason that hedgerows are so fantastic, however, is that they are often mixed, and that is where the benefits of gardening are as well.
A garden is a diverse landscape, which encourages multiple different plants and different layers to grow at different rates—but it is managed. The act of gardening, similar to farming, means that a garden is managed. Studies, especially those from the Royal Horticultural Society centre, RHS Wisley, now show that the benefits of our 30 million gardeners getting behind nature are absolutely phenomenal. We all know about the benefits of carbon sequestering, and if we are to fulfil our commitment of achieving net zero by 2050, gardeners will play a key role.
To conclude, I will talk about the benefits to physical and mental health from hedgerows. As the third most obese country in Europe, we have a way to go to improve our nation’s health. About 25 limbs are amputated every day as a result of diabetes, and at the height of the pandemic, on one of the worst days for hospital admissions, 4,500 people were admitted to hospital on one day; but every day, on average, 3,000 people are admitted to our hospitals due to obesity-related issues. To go for a walk along a hedgerow—I cannot imagine a nicer way to spend the day.
As we dare to dream that spring is on the way, and as the hedgerows start to get colour and liven up, we can look forward to the bird nesting season. We absolutely need to protect our hedgerows. Most importantly, we can look forward to the sights and sounds that we find in our hedgerows, and find an excuse to go for a walk and enjoy the great outdoors, which is the most wonderful thing about this country. It is absolutely essential if we are going to tackle the obesity crisis and all of the many preventable diseases that are caused by having a less active Britain.”