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Earl Peel: We are moving into the world of preserving the countryside in aspic. I fully understand the reasons behind the noble Baroness's amendments. However, speaking personally, I have just sold a large estate in the north of England where stone walls were and still are a major feature of the landscape. I can assure her that the maintenance of those stone walls is an extremely expensive operation. Frankly, if the noble Baroness honestly believes that the best way to preserve the stone walls is to impose a protection order, she has the wrong end of the stick.

Baroness Nicol: If the noble Earl will give way, I assume, and I hope we shall make clear, that all the operations will attract financial support. I would not have it otherwise.

Earl Peel: I am interested to hear the noble Baroness say that, because it does not appear in any of the amendments that are under her name, as I understand it. But certainly, she is absolutely right. I entirely endorse what she says. If we are to go forward with the conservation and management of the countryside, it perhaps has to be encompassed with incentives for people to do the work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, mentioned partridges. As the recently elected chairman of the Game Conservancy, I endorse much of what she said. She mentioned Norfolk specifically. It is perhaps worth noting that there are still areas in Norfolk where there are great numbers of partridges. The partridges have acted as an incentive to the maintenance of the hedgerows that are still there. It is not simply that the hedgerows encourage the partridges; it is a result of the management of those hedgerows, plus of course the conservation headlands which the Game Conservancy initiated and in which it plays such an important part. Another essential element in the success of the partridge has been proper predator control. I want to move away from that subject, but it is an important point to make.

What concerns me about these amendments is that we are asking farmers to try to preserve and conserve things which perhaps no longer have any value so far as agriculture is concerned. If that is the case, I am sorry to have to say that the public purse must play a major part. You really cannot expect farmers to be involved in maintaining aspects and features of the countryside which are no longer part and parcel of their well-being.

It always amuses me that a great feature in the North of England is the Settle to Carlisle railway and all the marvellous viaducts and bridges that were constructed. But can one imagine what would happen nowadays if somebody sought planning permission for a project like that? They would be laughed out of court. Yet here we are, trying to protect something which we know was accepted in those days but for which nowadays we would never get planning permission. We really must try to take a much more realistic approach to all this. By all means let us protect, and let us conserve. But we

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must accept that if these features are no longer a viable aspect of farming they must be supported from the public purse.

Lord Moran: We must bear in mind that the whole of this discussion is going on against a background of a great deal of public interest and concern in relation to the enormous loss of hedgerows that has occurred in recent years. The Government's own countryside survey in 1990 pointed out that between 1984 and 1990 the loss every year—the complete removal—of hedges was 5,900 miles. Although that rate has gone down more recently, the hedgerows survey that was commissioned by the Department of the Environment from the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology showed that the complete removal of hedgerows between 1990 and 1993 still amounted to 2,200 miles a year. That is the basis of public concern.

I fully agree with the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, about the need for money to be made available from the public purse if protection for hedgerows is to be written into this Bill. We are to talk about grants a little later. We must bear in mind that only 1 per cent. of the UK budget for the common agricultural policy is allocated to environmental schemes for farmers and land managers. That is where the money needs to be increased.

I should like to say a brief word about Wales in relation to these particular amendments. The Countryside Council for Wales welcomes them because they seek to broaden the scope of the clauses to a wider range of countryside features. We must bear in mind that all that Clause 79 does is to allow the two Secretaries of State—for the environment and for Wales—to make provision for the protection of important hedgerows. I believe that the Countryside Council for Wales is right in talking not about hedgerows but about traditional field boundaries. It points out that in Wales there are hedges; dry-stone walls; earth banks, which are sometimes stone faced; slate fences; ditches; and that many of these traditional boundaries have a wider historical significance as parish boundaries or represent ancient systems of agriculture. The pattern of traditional field boundaries can tell us much about historic land use changes. They mention such features as Offa's Dike. I must declare a non-financial interest as the president of the Offa's Dike Association. They also mention prehistoric field patterns and mediaeval strip fields in other parts of Wales and the mediaeval open field system. It is very important that they should be preserved, and clearly they will be important under the definition of this Bill.

The protection of traditional field boundaries has been one of the objectives of the environmentally sensitive areas programme in Wales and of the Countryside Council for Wales Tir Cymen experimental agri-environmental scheme. In 1992 the CCW introduced the hedgerow renovation scheme for the purpose of protecting, enhancing and securing the effective management of dilapidated hedgerows. It has concluded 227 agreements with farmers and landowners. I am sure that that is the way forward. I have confidence in the department's capacity to work out arrangements under this Bill.

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Obviously it is very difficult to prescribe all the details in a Bill of this kind. But the lines on which I think it is working seem to me to be sensible and I personally welcome it.

Lord Renton: Perhaps I may refer to an amendment which seems to me to create great confusion: namely, Amendment No. 310, which is supported by noble Lords from all parties, including a noble friend on this side of the Committee. To leave out "hedgerows" and insert "countryside features" would cause great confusion. This clause naturally focuses attention on hedgerows, which constitute the main problem that we have to consider. Quite frankly, "countryside features" is incapable of any useful definition.

Let me say a few brief words about the next amendment, which relates to ponds. Many ponds, especially in East Anglia, have disappeared from farms for good reason. One reason that there has been a great improvement is field drainage, especially tile drainage. If tile drainage is carried out properly, a number of old ponds are bound to disappear and have indeed done so. They are not so much needed now that there is very little stock on the farms. I do not feel that we can expect to have those ponds protected or preserved any longer.

The big, worthwhile ponds—those that carry fish and do not dry up in a dry season—are still there. We should not confuse the issue by giving serious attention to the suggestion that "ponds" should be added to "hedgerows".

Lord Stanley of Alderley: I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Moran, might like to look at the Answer regarding hedgerows given by my noble friend Lord Ullswater on 22nd July. The noble Lord told the Committee how many hedgerows were taken out, but he did not say how many were put back. He should read that Answer. I think he will find that more were put back than were taken out.

There is another point over which I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, made a mistake. He said that the public were prepared to pay. The public will not be prepared to pay when they are asked to pay for this. In the sheltered life of this Chamber, one may think otherwise. But when you ask the public to pay, they will not do so. It is just like asking them to pay the difference in price between free-range eggs and battery laid eggs. They will go for the battery eggs because they are cheaper.

Finally, I understand what the noble Baroness says. But I hope that the Committee will bear in mind all the time that it is absolutely pointless to try to preserve something that is not of some use. I can tell her, with great feeling—I have seen this over 40 years—that if you try to do that, you will find that the farmer or owner does not have enough time to look after it. He is asked to do so much all the time on the farm. He will just forget to put up the gutter or forget to do the stone walling. We must not preserve something which does not have some use, because it will just fall into decay.

The Duke of Somerset: To emphasise one or two of those points, while I am in general agreement with those

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noble Lords who wish to see hedgerows, ponds and walls preserved—and indeed other countryside features—these amendments are not the best way of going about that.

It is no good just preserving them in the proverbial aspic. If they have lost their economic agricultural function, the regulatory route will not be effective in their preservation. They need to be managed by encouraging their original worthwhile use. This sort of less modern management costs money. A number of management schemes and incentives already exist, such as the countryside stewardship scheme, the ESAs, and others, which contribute towards this sort of costly management, and those are the sort of schemes that should be extended. That, surely, is the way forward, not the fossilisation of these items. The countryside is primarily a workplace; a place where livings are earned. As we have just heard, the repair of stone walls has a very high labour cost; it is very expensive. Although they are very desirable, that factor has to be recognised, and, most importantly, paid towards by those who wish to enjoy other people's property.


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