Guidance

Hedgerow management rules: buffer strips

Rules on buffer strips that you must follow if you have hedgerows on or next to land used for agriculture.

Applies to England

The hedgerow management rules aim to protect hedgerows on agricultural land as these are important ecological building blocks across our landscapes. Hedgerows provide habitat, act as wildlife corridors, slow soil erosion and water run-off. They also support crop pollinators and sequester carbon as well as enriching the landscape.

There are hedgerow management rules for cutting and trimming and buffer strips.

These rules came into force on 23 May 2024. Find out when the rules will first apply to you.

Buffer strip rules 

You must take all reasonable steps to establish and maintain a green cover on land within 2 metres of the centre of a hedgerow covered by the hedgerow management buffer strip rules.   

You must not cultivate or apply fertilisers or pesticides to land within 2 metres of the centre of a hedgerow covered by the hedgerow management buffer strip rules.  

The rules apply to any person responsible for the hedgerow. This includes owners and tenants and anyone employed, engaged or otherwise acting on behalf of those responsible.   

Definitions 

Fertilisers are any material which supplies nutrients for plant growth and includes:  

  • inorganic and organic fertiliser 
  • organic manures 
  • lime 
  • slurry 
  • sewage sludge 
  • anaerobic digestate 
  • slag 
  • trace elements 
  • calcified seaweed 
  • human waste  

Pesticides mean anything used for destroying pests and includes: 

  • herbicides 
  • fungicides 
  • insecticides 
  • other biocides 

Check if the rules apply to a hedgerow  

A hedgerow is a line of bushes which can include trees. Any trees growing in a hedgerow will be treated as part of the hedgerow. It also includes hedgerows on top of a traditional hedgerow bank.   

The buffer strip rules apply to a hedgerow if it meets the criteria for both: 

  • length 
  • location 

Length 

The rules apply if a hedgerow is: 

  • more than 20m long with gaps of 20m or less in its length 
  • less than 20m long, but meets another hedgerow at each end 

Any gap of 20 metres or less will be treated as part of the hedgerow.

Location 

The rules apply if a hedgerow is growing on, or next to, land used for agriculture, including: 

  • horticulture   
  • fruit growing   
  • seed growing   
  • dairy farming   
  • the breeding and keeping of livestock – this includes horses, ponies and any animal kept for its use in farming, for the production of food, wool or skins 

It includes grazing land, meadow land, osier land, market gardens, and nursery grounds. And woodlands where agricultural activities take place. 

When the rules will first apply to you 

The buffer strip rules will apply from the following dates:  

  • on land used for crop production from the end of the first harvest after 1 July 2024  
  • on all other land that these rules apply to (including permanent pasture and temporary pasture), from 1 July 2024  

Exemptions from the rules not to cultivate or apply fertilisers or pesticides 

The rules not to cultivate or apply fertilisers or pesticides to land within 2 metres of the centre of a hedgerow do not apply in the following situations. 

You do not need to write to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to ask for an exemption. You must keep a record of all works that you carry out under an exemption. If you are visited by the RPA you must be able to prove how and why you relied on the exemption. 

To control the spread of injurious or invasive weeds 

You have used pesticides by way of spot application to control the spread of any of the following injurious or invasive weeds:  

  • broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius) 
  • creeping or field thistle (Cirsium arvense) 
  • curled dock (Rumex crispus) 
  • giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) 
  • Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) 
  • Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) 
  • ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) 
  • rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) 
  • spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare) 

Establishing new green cover to comply with the rules  

You have cultivated to establish a green cover where one did not exist because the land was not required to have one before. 

Risks to plant, human or animal health  

Where you need to prevent or treat serious causes of harm to plant health. Or you have cultivated to prevent a risk to human or animal health or safety. 

Weed or pest infestations 

Where you need to prevent or treat a serious pest or weed infestation. 

Exemptions where the rules do not apply 

The buffer strip rules do not apply: 

  • to land either side of a hedgerow which is less than 5 years old (you’ll need to keep documentary evidence to prove this) 
  • to land forming part of a parcel of 2 hectares or less, as measured within permanent boundary features 
  • to land on the side of any hedgerow which is facing a dwelling where the hedgerow marks a boundary of the curtilage of the dwelling 
  • to land used for allotments (as defined by section 1 of the Allotments Act 1925
  • to the land next to a traditional hedgerow bank when it is being cast up between 1 September in any year and the last day of February in the following year 

When you need written permission (derogations) for exemption from the rules  

You can apply to the RPA for written permission (a derogation) to be exempt from the buffer strip rules not to cultivate or apply fertilisers or pesticides.  

A derogation could be granted for any of the following reasons: 

  • it would enhance the environment 
  • it is necessary in relation to livestock or crop production 

  • it would improve public or agricultural access 

How to apply for written permission (a derogation) 

To apply for a derogation, you must email or write to the RPA.  

You should:  

  • include all the available evidence (for example, photographs or diagrams) 
  • explain what you want to do 
  •  include the land parcel numbers you want the derogation for. 
  • use the subject heading ‘Hedgerow management rules derogation’  

You must wait for the RPA to consider your request and grant any successful derogation in writing before carrying out any work. 

Exemptions are limited to the hedgerow management rules  

These exemptions only apply to the hedgerow management rules on buffer strips. When carrying out any actions related to the above exemptions, you must follow any other rules or legislation in place, for example, the Farming Rules for Water and the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones rules. 

Report a suspected breach of the rules 

Before reporting a suspected breach, you should read these rules.

To report a suspected breach, you should telephone, email or write to the RPA.  Provide as much information as possible, including location, timings and photographs or footage if you have them.  

In your email or letter use the subject heading ‘Hedgerow management rules report of a suspected breach’. 

What to expect on a visit by the Rural Payments Agency

The RPA is the regulator for these rules and may visit your land to check compliance with these regulations. The RPA could gather evidence during any visit, for example, copies of records or documents or take photographs. Where circumstances make it necessary to gather immediate evidence, or to prevent harm to hedgerows, visits could take place with little or no notice.

The RPA will discuss their findings with you before leaving. You will receive written confirmation of their findings which will include any advice and guidance. The RPA will work with you to ensure you are supported to comply with regulations, taking a fair and proportionate approach to enforcement.

You must allow any visit to take place. Any person who wilfully obstructs an RPA officer is guilty of an offence and could be liable to a fine of up to £1000.

Offences and enforcement

These rules came into force on 23 May 2024. You will have committed an offence if you do not follow the rules from this date.

Where the RPA finds you have not followed the rules, it will use an outcome focused approach. This approach is supportive of those the RPA regulates doing the right thing but allows it to take action in the more serious cases.

Advice and guidance will be prioritised before taking enforcement action unless in cases of significant harm. The RPA will use appropriate interventions aimed at helping those it regulates to comply.

Enforcement action could include either civil sanctions (Stop Notices, Compliance Notices, Restoration Notices and Variable Monetary Penalties) or prosecution.

The RPA will hold a public consultation on how to implement and enforce these protections in due course. This is required by the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008. Any such civil sanctions will not be considered until this consultation has concluded and the response is published.

Contact details 

Telephone: 03000 200 301
Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm.

Email: ruralpayments@defra.gov.uk 

Address: 

Rural Payments 
PO Box 352 
Worksop 
S80 9FG

Updates to this page

Published 23 May 2024

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