The Vanishing Hedges

In July we were contacted by somebody who had noticed the removal of a hedge from a farm in the AONB near Spaxton. Since 1997 it has been illegal under the Hedgerow Regulations to remove a farm hedge without the consent of the local planning authority, in this case Sedgemoor, so he had informed them and when they investigated they were told by the farmer that it had not been a hedge but a line of brambles. However, Google Streetview showed that it had been a hedge. Then, looking at back images from Google Earth, he found that other hedges on the farm seemed to have been removed without consent. 

When we raised this with Sedgemoor in mid-July and were told that “…in the absence of any evidence as to a) whether an offence has actually taken place, i.e. a protected hedgerow has been removed, b) if any offence has taken place when it took place, c) who committed any alleged offence and d) if a protected hedgerow was removed whether it was done intentionally or recklessly, this matter does not pass the evidential test and therefore is not appropriate for further consideration for criminal prosecution.” 

This is nonsense. The Regulation makes clear that it is for the authority to decide whether the hedge meets the criteria of protection and this it manifestly cannot do if the hedge has been destroyed. Google Earth shows that the offence took place after the Regulations were passed; it also shows that other hedges on the farm have been taken out. Hedges are not removed unintentionally in a fit of absent-mindedness and it is improbable that any third party would have undertaken the unconsented removal of several hedges; would the owner not have noticed? 
So we replied on 31st July to set out our detailed rebuttal and said “It is the Committee’s considered view that the offences should be fully investigated with a view to prosecution and reinstatement of  hedges that are shown to have been removed unlawfully. … The Committee noted that failure to proceed must lead others to believe that they too may remove hedges unlawfully with the risk of significant negative consequences for the natural beauty of the AONB.” Eight weeks later we still await a reply.

Photo Credit: Ben Hoare, Twitter, image of sign placed in Spaxton village shop