FARMERS and crofters have been reminded that a hedge cutting ban comes into place on March 1, to coincide with the start of the wild bird nesting and rearing season.

This closed period will continue til August 31, prohibiting cutting and trimming hedges and trees under the cross-compliance requirements of CAP funding.

NFU Scotland noted two exceptions to this ban – the first under the GAEC 7 rule change introduced in 2018, farmers planning to sow a field with oilseed rape or grass can trim a hedge or lop branches off a tree before sowing commences, but only during the month of August. This exemption can be extended to fields being sown with other crops during August, but only with prior written permission received from Scottish Government Rural Payments Inspections Division.

The other exception to the ban is for road safety where a hedge or tree overhangs a road, surfaced track or a footpath which may obstruct or interfere with the passage or view of vehicles, pedestrians or horse riders, or the obstruction of light from a public lamp. Before undertaking trimming in August under this exemption, farmers and crofters must check the full length of the hedge for nesting birds. If active nests are found, trimming must be delayed until all birds have fledged.

NFU Scotland's combinable crops chairman Willie Thomson reminded farmers: “The hedge cutting ban is yet another example of where farmers and crofters are leading the way in protecting and encouraging wildlife within the countryside.

“Farmers and crofters have always been custodians of the countryside and by enabling nesting birds the sanctuary of Scottish hedgerows, farmers and crofters are once again actively encouraging a wide variety of habitats for a number of species.

“NFU Scotland is keen to establish a system going forward which allows farmers to get on with the day job of feeding the nation, whilst still delivering on environmental outcomes," added Mr Thomson. “At present, the rulebook has not been thrown out of the window and farmers and crofters must still comply with current rules on cross compliance, mapping, greening and Single Application Form procedures. Alongside these requirements, compliance inspections will continue in 2020 as they did in 2019.”