Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

CAP update ends DEFRA hedging over EFAs

DEFRA has recently published its latest update on the CAP reform rules which surround the introduction of the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) next year.

There are still areas of uncertainty but the long awaited rules concerning hedges and how they can be used to contribute to a farmer’s “Ecological Focus Area” (EFA) requirement have been clarified.

Any farmer who has more than 15 hectares of arable land will have to “set aside” 5% of their arable land as an EFA. There are some exemptions to this rule for farmers with a high proportion of grass but if these exemptions do not apply farmers will have to incorporate the appropriate EFAs in to their farming system.

There are five different types of EFA:

1. Fallow Land
2. Hedges
3. Buffer Strips
4. Catch crops and cover crops
5. Nitrogen fixing crop

It is the rules concerning hedges which have been exercising farmers’ minds in this area because they are an obvious ecological resource which many would like to use towards their EFA requirements and now the rules have been clarified in what appears to be a reasonably sensible manner.

Basically every metre length of hedge is to be regarded as providing 10 sqm of EFA and so farmers will need to measure the length of qualifying hedges on their land to calculate the deemed EFA area. But importantly DEFRA have also clarified the definition of what will be considered to be a hedge and which hedges will qualify as an EFA

As far as the definition of a hedge is concerned, there are no maximum or minimum width or height limits but the hedge must be more than 20m long and there must be less than 2m from the ground to the lowest leaves. Gaps of up to 20m, including gateways are allowed in hedges.

However, not all hedges will qualify as an EFA. It is only those hedges which are on or adjacent to arable land in the farmer’s control that will qualify although hedges which are separated from the arable land by an ineligible feature under the BPS rules, such as a ditch of more than 2m wide or a hard track will not qualify.If the hedge is separated from the arable land by a fence only the hedge will qualify.

If the farmer is responsible for farming both sides of the hedge, even if one side is in permanent pasture, then the full 10 sqm per m length of hedge can be claimed but if the other side of the hedge is farmed by another farmer then only 5 sqm can be claimed. If the other side of the hedge is a road, the farmer can make a full claim.

Finally DEFRA had originally stated that using hedges to contribute to a farmer’s EFA requirements may result in a delay in the farmer receiving payment of the BPS in 2015. However, DEFRA have now said there may not be delays as they are looking into an ‘approach’ to prevent this. What this will be we do not know but it seems DEFRA are backtracking a little on their previous warning.

Therefore, although there is still plenty of work to be done before the first BPS claims can be made next year, some of the crucial detail is beginning to become clear.

James Stephen

James Stephen

Partner

James is a partner who splits his time between Wells and Oxford offices. He specialises in rural estate management, landlord and tenant matters, compulsory purchase and compensation, rural grant a...

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