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Lord Walpole: My Lords, I shall speak briefly in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. I am a landowner but principally a farmer. I am extremely worried about the preservation of ponds. They are far more fragile than hedges and can disappear far more quickly. I take issue with what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said about dew ponds disappearing and how it is so much easier to plough through the middle of them. Of course it is, and that is why they are disappearing. That is why, as the noble Baroness pointed out, small ecosystems are disappearing all over the country. If one flies over East Anglia, one can see that almost all the fields have dew ponds. They are disappearing. I believe that they need more protection than hedgerows.

There is considerable confusion about the number of ponds and the number that are disappearing. I own 16 sheets of water, in one way or another. In the past two dry summers, we were down to six. Ten dried out completely. That is no good for the greater crested newts and other species which are trying to survive around us. I believe that the protection of ponds is as important, if not more important, because of their fragility, as the protection of hedgerows and field boundaries which are, after all, a little more robust.

The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, at the risk of overdoing things from these Benches, I wish to add a word of caution and to support what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and others have said. There is no doubt that certain field features and ponds are important. The difficulty is identifying which are important and which are capable of being maintained in the context of the farming or land ownership enterprise.

I rather liked the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton. I know that my father sold one of the farms from the estate. Going from memory, I believe

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it was 350 acres. There were over 200 fields, more than 300 gateways and several miles of hedge and bank. It was a farm which had a good deal more in common with rural serfdom from the time of the enclosures than anything to do with modern competitive agriculture. I flag that as regards Exmoor at any rate the situation must be looked at with great care. Although I understand the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, I am concerned that the fragile economic environment of national parks—I speak with Exmoor in particular in mind—should not be threatened by an overweight scatter-gun effect of more designations.

On my holdings I already have to deal with sites of special scientific interest, the principles of environmental sensitive areas—I apologise to noble Lords who have heard this list before but it bears repeating—and Section 3 of the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act. That is in addition to listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments. They all create paperwork. It may be that in due course TPOs will be added and I have no doubt that hedge protection orders will be served upon me. I should be extremely anxious if walls and ponds were to be added to all that without extremely careful consideration.

The question of funding has been mentioned. I am rather concerned that we may be losing sight of the difficulty of targeting a single feature on a holding. For example, I believe that I am right in saying that environmentally sensitive area schemes are whole farm schemes. It is all or nothing. I am not sure to what extent a single feature could be targeted accurately by other environmental schemes. I suspect that most of them require a good deal more commitment than that. Therefore, that will not be suitable for somebody who has an extensive arable operation but who has an important feature which an authority wishes to protect and which needs the incorporation of a larger area long since managed in a manner not according with any of the standard schemes. I am fearful that those one-off situations will drop through the net of financial assistance.

In many respects, I have sympathy with the intention behind the amendments. Such features are important in our landscape. But it is important to make sure that they do not have a wholly negative impact on the holdings where they are situated.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, we debated at length in Committee the merits or otherwise of extending the scope of the clause as proposed. I made clear at the time that Clause 79 is intended to honour the Government's long-standing commitment to bring forward legislation to deal with hedgerows.

We are taking action to protect important hedgerows. Those hedgerows will be highly valued by historic landscape or wildlife interests. For example, hedgerows may mark ancient parish or community boundaries. They can make a unique contribution to the landscape. Of course, dry stone walls can have a striking effect on the landscape, especially in the upland areas, but hedgerows can also support an extremely rich range of wildlife. I tend to agree with my noble friend Lord

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Renton in that respect. The 1990 Countryside Survey recorded over 300 plant and shrub species in the hedgerows surveyed, many of which are absent or rare in the surrounding landscape. Hedgerows make an important contribution, therefore, to plant diversity. But hedgerows can also be important for animals, birds and insects, some of which are directly dependent upon the plants found in hedgerows. I could continue. But I think that the point is made: it is their collective landscape, wildlife and historic contributions to the countryside that made hedgerows such a key feature, distinguishing them from the other features with which the amendments are concerned.

I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, was mostly concerned about ponds. Between 1984 and 1990, England lost 8 per cent. of the total length of walls and about 6 per cent. of ponds. The comparable figures for hedgerow loss are 22 per cent. of total hedgerow length. Therefore, the scale of the problem in relation to hedgerows is that much more severe. Moreover, management grants are available to help land managers restore neglected countryside features. Countryside Stewardship in England and the equivalent scheme in Wales, for example, offer assistance for the restoration of boundary features such as stone walls, earth banks and stone-faced hedge banks as well as hedgerows.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, mentioned the stone-faced banks in West Penrith in Cornwall. I believe that generous grants are now available up to the rate of 80 per cent. for restoration of the Cornish banks and walls within the West Penrith environmentally sensitive area. Those are just some of a range of initiatives which encourage the creation of new countryside features and the management of existing ones. Environmentally sensitive areas and the farm and conservation grant scheme are others.

In addition, the action that we are taking on hedgerows is underpinned by current scientific evidence. Government research, carried out in 1993 and published last year, indicates that significant numbers of hedges in England and Wales continue to be removed each year. The most recent figures we have on losses of walls and banks come from the 1990 Countryside Survey, which is now somewhat out of date. They were, in any event, and as I said, lower than the comparable figures for hedgerows. As for ponds, my right honourable friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside announced in December that further research was necessary to consider recent trends. The Government do not, therefore, consider it justified to go beyond their stated commitment to legislate on hedgerows by imposing the burden of new regulations to protect drystone walls, other traditional field boundaries and ponds. We must take into account the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke in that respect.

I understand that we are discussing sensitive matters. I hope that I have indicated that we are trying to develop a good scheme for hedgerows. However, it is not justified to broaden it in the way suggested by the

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amendment. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

9 p.m.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I understand why the Government have brought forward the clause on hedgerows, but I also hope that the Minister will understand that there is little likelihood of there being another opportunity to discuss drystone walls. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I believe that stone walls do provide some wild life facilities, although, I admit, not to the same extent as hedgerows. However, in certain parts of the country they are very valuable habitats for certain small mammals, for lichens and also in other respects, quite apart from their sheltering facility for livestock. Of course, they are, beyond doubt, a wonderful archaeological and landscape feature of the countryside. However, I can recognise defeat when I see it: I am a realist. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 236 to 238 not moved.]

Viscount Ullswater moved Amendment No. 239:

Page 87, line 22, at end insert:
("( ) Before making any regulations under this section the appropriate Ministers shall consult—
(a) such bodies appearing to them to be representative of persons whose business interests are likely to be affected by the proposed regulations,
(b) such bodies appearing to them to be representative of the interests of owners or occupiers of land,
(c) such bodies appearing to them to be representative of the interests of local authorities,
(d) such bodies whose statutory functions include the provision to Ministers of the Crown of advice concerning matters relating to environmental conservation, and
(e) such bodies not falling within paragraphs (a) to (d) above,
as the appropriate Ministers may consider appropriate.
( ) No statutory instrument containing regulations under this section shall be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving the above amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 240, 241 and 243. The amendments give statutory force to our intentions for a wide-ranging public consultation on the detailed arrangements for hedgerow protection and make the regulations subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. They are brought forward in response to amendments tabled in Committee by my noble friend Lord Wade, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton.

Amendment No. 239A, which is tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Marlesford, seeks to include a specific requirement to consult non-statutory bodies representative of environmental interests. Although not expressly mentioned in my amendments, I can assure my noble friend that organisations representative of environmental interests, such as the Councils for the Protection of Rural England and Rural Wales and the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, as well as organisations representative of more specific interests

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such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and others, will be included in the consultation. On that basis, I hope that, when my noble friend speaks to his amendment, he will indicate that he does not intend to press it. I beg to move.

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