The range of land maintenance tasks that can be completed is significantly curtailed during the bird nesting season, which runs from 1 March to 31 August (inclusive), unless otherwise permitted in a given year.

Rules governing what tasks can be completed are enforceable under the 13 statutory management requirements (SMRs) and the seven good agricultural and environmental conditions (GAEC), applicable since 1 January 2015 under the Common Agricultural Policy.

As such, these SMRs and GAEC standards are set down in EU legislation.

Landscape features were designated under GAEC in 2009 and are deemed as eligible for payment under the Basic Payment Scheme. They include hedgerows (including gappy hedgerows), trees in a line, drains and ditches and combinations of these.

Streams and rivers

Note that streams and rivers do not fall under the landscape feature designation. Landscape features cannot be removed at any stage of the year without adhering to certain criteria or securing prior approval if deemed necessary.

Trimming or cutting of hedges or trees during the bird nesting season is not permitted unless you are directed to do so by your local authority in the interests of health and safety.

The removal of vegetation from a field, such as scrub which may be beneficial to birds, is also not permitted during the bird nesting season. Additionally, the burning of living vegetation is prohibited during the period 1 March to 31 August under the Wildlife Act 1976.

Removing landscape

Landscape features may be removed in certain cases, provided a replacement hedge, line of trees or drain is planted or dug in advance of the removal.

The feature removed can only be replaced like-for-like and in the case of a hedgerow, the species planted must be traditional to the area.

The replacement also cannot be for amenity purposes, such as around a farmyard or driveway.

EIA regulations

There is also another regulation that such works fall under, with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations coming into force in September 2011.

The regulations police certain types of development on farms, which are categorised into one of three types of activities as follows:

  • Restructuring of rural land holdings.
  • Commencing use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture.
  • Land drainage works on lands used for agriculture.
  • Note that these exclude drainage, infill or reclamation of wetlands, as these activities are subject to planning permission under the Planning and Development (Amendment No 2) Regulations 2011 and the European Communities Regulations 2011.

    Where these activities are proposed, they may require screening by the Department of Agriculture, if they exceed certain thresholds outlined in Table 1.

    Screening is a cost-free process, in which the Department of Agriculture examines the proposed activities for environmental impact and determines if the task can go ahead or if it is deemed that the proposed activities are likely to have a significant effect on the environment and as such require a full EIA.

    If the proposed developments exceed a certain level for screening, then there is no option but to undertake a full EIA.

    It is also important to highlight that the thresholds referred to are calculated over a five-year period and, as such, this needs to be taken into account in the calculations.

    High nature value farmland

    The Department of Agriculture also advises that screening should be applied for if the proposed activity is within, near or may affect a proposed natural heritage area (NHA) or nature reserve.

    These proposed activities are also classified as ‘requiring consent’ or being a ‘notifiable action’ if located in a European high nature value land, including a special area of conservation (SAC), special protected area (SPA) or NHA.

    The legislation states that in such circumstances in a European site, the National Parks and Wildlife Service may direct the person in charge of the development to apply for Department screening in the case of sub-threshold works that have been brought to their attention.

    The last consideration is a development which may impact on an archaeological monument.

    The screening process can be applied for by completing an application form and submitting it for review along with a map of where the works are proposed to take place.

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