The main features of the proposals, set out in a consultation paper and draft regulations, published jointly by the department of the environment, ministry of agriculture, fisheries and food and the Welsh Office, are:
-- hedgerows, mainly in the countryside and over 20 metres in length, will be covered.
-- a land manager must notify the local planning authority if he wants to remove one of these hedgerows.
-- the local planning authority may refuse consent only if the hedgerow is considered to be important according to criteria set out in the draft regulations.
-- Illegal removal of a hedgerow may be punishable by a fine of up to £5,000 in a magistrates court, or unlimited if convicted in a crown court. The local authority may also require the hedgerow to be replanted.
Announcing their publication, environment secretary John Gummer said:
'I consider that our proposals for a notification system, backed up by a set of rigorous criteria which identify those hedgerows of significant historic, wildlife or landscape importance, best meets our objectives for a scheme that is fair, reasonable and practical and strikes the right balance between providing effective environmental benefits and minimising the impact on farmers.
'Inevitably there will be differences of view about the details of such a scheme. The government is therefore keen, during this consultation, to hear from a wide range of people and organisations who may be affected by, or have an interest in, these proposals - before the detailed arrangements are finalised.'
The criteria for determining whether a hedgerow is important are based on a study undertaken by the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service to develop a hedgerow evaluation system, the report of which will be published later this week.
Copies of the draft Regulations and consultation paper are available from Alasdair Robertson, the Department of the Environment, Room P2/135, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 3EB telephone 0171 276 3662. Comments should be submitted by 2 December.
Copies of the report of the ADAS study to develop a 'Hedgerow Evaluation System' will be available, free of charge, from the above address.