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Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group, but I speak especially to Amendment No. 236. As various noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Renton, have pointed out, this is enabling legislation, and adding the word "ponds" would merely allow a Minister, should he wish, to bring in regulations protecting important ponds.

I am talking about ponds rather than lakes and fens. Although they are small, they are extremely important ecosystems. It is not a question of digging new ponds but of protecting the wide variety of invertebrates and other species which live in fresh water. Some 3,500 British invertebra live in fresh water, half of which can be found in ponds. There are 300 British fresh-water invertebrate species in the British red data book and more than two-thirds of those are found in ponds. All Britain's amphibians, including those which are becoming increasingly rare, such as the great crested newt and the natterjack toad, require ponds as breeding habitats. Both those species are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act.

I agree that the decline in the number of ponds is slow—4 per cent. during the past six years—but there has been a decline in these essential breeding places for amphibians. They are also valuable habitats for many birds, in particular waders.

The majority of ponds have suffered from changes in land use practice—for instance, the introduction of intensive farming—as have hedges. A large majority have also been lost as a result of pollution and run-off from agriculture and drainage. Large numbers of ponds have been recreated but it is important to remember that, although that helps, it does not replace old-established ecosystems in traditional ponds. It takes a long time for ecosystems to build up as do the communities of animals, insects and invertebra which are interdependent and dependent on each other.

In Committee, it was suggested that important ponds are already protected by the SSSI designation. However, by tabling a Written Question to the Minister, I established that no ponds are specifically protected as such. They may be protected under SSSIs but there is no specific record of ponds. Whether they are currently protected is entirely haphazard and it would be

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extremely useful if this enabling power were written into the Bill, in particular if there is a further catastrophic decline in this form of habitat.

Lord Wise: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 237, 238 and 242. I am not seeking to complicate the provision to protect important hedgerows. I seek a complementary but distinct provision to enable the Secretary of State to introduce a last resort power to protect other traditional field boundaries. The amendment defines those to include dry stone walls, earth banks, slate fences and ditches. I suggest that that will enable the Government to carry forward an earlier commitment and an important Edwards Report recommendation that there should be a last resort power to protect landscaped features just as there is to protect wildlife.

My amendments are confined to traditional field boundaries because I believe the last resort power to protect these to be a priority and straightforward to implement. Field boundaries other than hedgerows play an important role in creating local distinctiveness. For example, the dry stone walls of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales and the raised banks of Pembrokeshire are important features within the landscape of those areas.

I appreciate that the management and upkeep of such field boundaries entails financial costs. Goodness knows, having farmed for many years, I know that only too well. It is not always easy to find the necessary wherewithal and one is sometimes tempted to fall back on a cheaper form of filling the gaps. However, as the Minister made clear in Committee, substantial grants are available for the management of such field boundaries. All the national park authorities top up Ministry of Agriculture grants to generous levels for the management of such features. Assistance is available under the countryside stewardship, Tyr Cumen and environmentally sensitive area schemes. I therefore suggest that the positive incentive—that is, the carrot—is in place and my proposal would provide the option of a genuine last resort power to act as a failsafe in the instances where incentives fail.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Moran: My Lords, in Committee I spoke in favour of the protection afforded to hedgerows being extended to dry stone walls and traditional field boundaries. I strongly support what has been said by the noble Baronesses, Lady Nicol and Lady Hilton, and the noble Lord, Lord Wise. I believe that the noble Lord's amendment is the most comprehensive in referring to all field boundaries. The dry stone walls of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, and the raised banks of Pembrokeshire are important features which should certainly be protected.

My noble friend Lord Chorley has unfortunately had to leave the Chamber but I wish to say a few words on his behalf. Had he been able to be present he would have concentrated on the historical importance of some field boundaries, in particular dry stone walls. He points out that in the Lake District—for example, in

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Borrowdale and Wasdale—the National Trust's researches show that the history of enclosures and farming systems can be established from the dry stone walls. They can establish a great deal about the farming system as early as the 13th century. In West Penrith in Cornwall many of the field boundaries are pre-Roman—some are walls and some are not—and they too are of considerable historical importance.

Those in National Trust ownership are, of course, in safe hands but others are not in National Trust ownership and it is important that they should be protected. In some cases, but not in all, my noble friend Lord Chorley believes that scheduling may be appropriate. He pointed out that in Committee the Minister drew attention to the availability of grants and that financial incentives are important and a necessary condition of preservation. However, they are not a sufficient condition. The Minister also said in Committee that the removal of dry stone walls was currently on a downward trend. My noble friend Lord Chorley said that that may be so—he has no up-to-date information—but he believes that it might be short-sighted to base policy on what is thought to have happened in the past three or four years.

As a result of the importance of field boundaries to the landscape and their historical value—field boundaries of all kinds are important to the environment and to our heritage—they are as important as ancient hedgerows and should be protected. I hope that the Minister will look with favour on the amendments put forward in this respect.

Lord Renton: My Lords, we must accept that dry stone walls are not necessarily for the conservation of wildlife. They are sometimes of historical interest and they are part of the landscape as we know it. Sometimes they are of aesthetic value. I know of some dry stone walls which no longer serve any useful purpose. They have been allowed to fall into disrepair and sometimes stones are taken from them in order to rebuild or raise the height of stone walls that are needed. And many stone walls are really needed. If farmers and landowners need them, they will be preserved. It is not necessary for us to write anything about stone walls into the Bill.

As regards ponds, I have quite a lot of experience both in East Anglia and south west Scotland. I do not wish to repeat all that I said at some length in Committee but perhaps I may mention it again to this extent. In days gone by, when there was no piped water supply—most farmers now have a piped water supply—any kind of pond was of value for cattle on the farm. Even though the ponds often dried up in the summer, they became useful again when the rains started in the autumn. In modern farming, farmers have been anxious to level the fields. That has enabled cultivation to be carried out more cheaply. It has meant getting away with dew ponds and smaller ponds.

The larger ponds remain and always will. They have harboured the wildlife which it is our duty to try to preserve, as referred to by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hilton and Lady Nicol. It would be extremely difficult to define in the Bill or in regulations made under it the kinds of ponds which should and will be preserved and

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the kind of ponds which it is not practical for us to keep. Therefore, I do not favour Amendment No. 236 but I support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Wise about Amendments Nos. 237 and 238.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, as a farmer—I say "as a farmer", and not a landowner—perhaps I may make a few comments. My noble friend Lord Renton has made a very good point as regards stone walls. After all, agriculture and farming have evolved over the years. Systems change. They have changed rapidly under the CAP and no doubt they will continue to change. The work of farming must be taken into account when framing the rules.

I hope that these amendments will not be accepted. They impose unnecessary constraints on farming business—and farming is a business. My noble friend Lord Monk Bretton confessed to a certain amount of hedgerow uprooting. I believe that most—and I say most but not all—farmers now would accept constraints on hedgerow removal with the safeguards put forward in the amended Clause 79. However, to carry that through to stone walls, ponds and other forms of field boundaries is going too far. Those amendments would be more suited to a clause dealing with national parks and not Clause 79 which is principally to do with hedgerows. I hope that the amendments will be rejected.

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