This discussion paper has been sent to the Chair of the Comite des Connetables and the Minister for Growth, Housing and Environment and has been signed by representatives of the following organisations:
National Trust for Jersey, Jersey Hedgehog Preservation Group, Societe Jersiaise Ornithology, Botany and Entomology Sections, Jersey Trees for Life, Durrell, Jersey Bat Group, Jersey Biodiversity Centre, Action for Wildlife Jersey, JSPCA, Jersey Amphibian and Reptile Group, Jersey Farmers' Union and Natural Jersey
Many thanks to Chris Perkins, Cassie Horton, Bob Tompkins, Neil Singleton, Allison Caldeira and Rose Anne Mitchell for all their work in producing this document.
JERSEY BANQUES & HEDGEROWS
It has long been recognised that Jersey’s walls, fosses (ditches), banques and hedgerows are an important part our natural heritage. With the ever-increasing pressure on our natural environment, they are also extremely important in terms of biodiversity and an essential wildlife corridor for many of our native fauna.
The Island Plan of 2011 states “many of the Island's boundary features - walls, fosses, banques and hedgerows - are also of great biodiversity value, as well as being of historic and cultural significance, and an essential element of the Island's character in both the countryside and the built environment. The historic field boundaries of the Island and the small fields they enclose are of early origin and represent a unique aspect of the Jersey landscape…..It is, therefore, important, in accord with the Strategic Policies of the Plan (Policy SP 4 ‘Protecting the natural and historic environment’) that, where trees, woods, walls, fosses, banques and hedgerows are of landscape, townscape, amenity, biodiversity or historical value, they are protected and retained.”
The Branchage Law (Loi (1914) sur la Voirie) is over 100 years old and was enacted in order to keep roads and pathways clear at a time when cutting could only be done by hand, agricultural practices were far less intensive than they are today, the pressure on the island’s natural environment was yet to be affected by chemical herbicides and the human population was less than half that of the present.
In recent years, individuals and organisations concerned with the protection of the natural environment have become increasingly concerned by an increasing loss of biodiversity in our banques and hedgerows. This concern was highlighted by the Jersey Hedgehog Group during the spring and summer of 2018 through the number of seriously injured hedgehogs brought to the Group, having been injured by ‘strimmers’ that were be used to carry out hedge cutting. As a result, a meeting was held in September 2018, attended by representatives of most of Jersey’s environment related groups; two Connétables, the Assistant Minister for Growth, Housing & Environment together with the President of the Jersey Farmer’s Union. These proposals stem from that meeting.
Ø The Branchage law is concerned solely with road safety and only requires roads and footpaths to be kept clear. However, the tops and the field edges of banques are often cut, as well as banques that make up field boundaries and which do not border roads or footpaths.
Ø Dates mentioned in the Branchage Law relate to the Parish Visites rather than the date of the process itself. Landowners undertake their branchage work before these Visite dates, for fear of being penalised.
Ø The guidance notes (States of Jersey Environment Department, Booklet Number 3 “Hedgerow and Grass Verge Management, Guidelines on Best Practice” (the “Guidelines”)) which are in place are not being adhered to.
Ø Economic expediency dictates that hedgerows are cut by flail and ‘strimmer’.
Ø Blowers on tractors blow cut vegetation back onto banques, where it is left to form a mulch which stifles the growth of beneficial hedgerow plants.
Ø In common with the effects on other fauna, the current branchage regime is also highly damaging to the insects. This is mainly due to the shortness of the height of the cuts, the timing of the cuts and the extent of the cuts. Unsympathetic cutting also means the injury or death of many other animals, such as hedgehogs, fledglings, slow worms etc.
Ø Vegetation is often cut too close, leading to exposed soil, which in turns leads to bank and tree collapse and much decreased biodiversity. Close cutting also restricts growth of low growing species and leads to the growth and ultimate dominance of ruderals/pioneer species. These species grow much faster and taller than traditional hedgerow plants – leading to the aforementioned reduced biodiversity and the resultant need to cut more frequently.
Ø From an aesthetic perspective, the sight of ‘brutalised’ hedges and banques is not attractive to visitors to the island, when we are trying to encourage them to visit for walking excursions etc.
Ø We use our insect fauna as an example, because insects are important pollinators and are also often a key food source for many of our vertebrate species:
o cutting which does not adhere to good practice effectively removes whole island-wide habitats twice a year to most species of insect and this happens at a time when many species are breeding and therefore many will also be in the immature stage of their life cycle. This not only makes them more susceptible to damage, as many are soft-bodied at this early stage, but impacts on the population dynamics of a species as a whole, especially if the next generation is impacted in such a destructive way year on year.
o for example, current branchage processes have contributed to the decline of numerous species such as the glow-worm, which is now rare along our roadsides. This is because the first cut in June/July coincides with their breeding season. Not only does this have a major impact, but also just as importantly by removing all the vegetation, as is done now, makes hedgerows unsuitable for snails and slugs (which is what glow-worms feed on). This is because these areas become hot and dry, not the cool moist shady habitats which provides cover for the snails.
o Very importantly, the removal of all flowering plants twice a year along all these 'corridors' criss-crossing Jersey removes vital feeding opportunities for pollinators, which are already suffering serious declines for numerous other human-related reasons. This is pushing more and more species to be almost exclusively reliant on nature reserves, gardens and suitable field crops in order to survive in Jersey.
BRANCHAGE RELATED AND FOR THE ACTION OF THE COMITE DES CONNETABLES
Ø Update the existing Guidelines to include:
o Cutting the vegetation on banques to no less than 20cm-30cm (8”-12”) will allow low growing hedgerow plants to recover, meaning that pioneer or ruderal species such as nettle, hogweed, ragwort and dock, will not dominate – leading to greater biodiversity. Also, many immature stages such as larva and pupa which are often low down in the vegetation would not be killed. Consideration can be given to revising these recommendations at road junctions where a clear line of sight is required.
o In terms of costs to the landowner, the improved cutting regime should mean that in time there will only be a need to cut once a year.
o Ensure that cuttings which are blown back onto hedgerows are cleared away so that they don’t become mulch.
o Incorporate into guidelines hedgerow management for inside fields with a minimum hedge width. Possible exemption clause for landowners who feel their hedgerows are exempt, but must apply to their parish for exemption.
o Guidelines should be consistent across Parish websites, magazines and www.gov.je
Ø Individual Parish competitions for the best hedgerow – not the prettiest, but the most biologically diverse. Media involvement vital.
Ø Promote the idea of ‘healthy’ hedgerows and encourage the public to adhere to that principle. Imagery is powerful and photographs of ‘good and bad’ hedgerows are effective in communicating that message. Photos also mean that a translation of the text is not always necessary.
Ø Publicity campaign through Parishes and all media platforms, showing that good management reduces the number of cuts required and protects the banques from collapse. There is a large financial/time cost to branchage. The farmers/landowners ideally would not do it if they didn’t have to.
Ø Moratorium on Parish penalties for 3 years – issue advice and copy of the reissued and revised guidelines instead.
Ø Branchage dates to be flexible and based on need - ie growing conditions vary from year to year. Cutting in February/March and October/November will for instance be more beneficial for insects. Consideration would need to be given to hibernating species such as bats and hedgehogs (bats do hibernate and roost in trees in Jersey).
OTHER SOLUTIONS WHICH MAY TAKE LONGER TO IMPLEMENT
Financial incentives through the Environment Dept (needs considerably more thought in conjunction with the Environment Dept, but vital to the campaign).
Ø For example, LEAF – Linking Environment & Farming – is a UK initiative to encourage farmers to show that they are helping the environment and will get paid a subsidy but with the onus on the farmer to ensure best practice is being adhered to.
Ø Link into incentives to leave fallow land around the edges of fields.
Ø Flail and ‘strimmer’ operators to have attended a compulsory course and be locally qualified to use the equipment to a suitable standard – a hedge cutting licence as a badge of honour! NB poor use of equipment is not only damaging to our flora, fauna and the banques themselves, it also causes costly damage to the equipment.
Ø Encourage teachers to incorporate guidelines into educating children about healthy gardens/hedges and the importance of discouraging pioneer plants and saving
species. “One person’s weed is another person’s wildflower!”
Ø Hedge restoration workshops – planting, maintenance and restoration (with impact on plants).
Ø There are strict Environment Department laws to keep hedges in place in fields (but these are not enforced) and these should be encouraged for private gardens.
Ø Produce guidelines for use of strimmers for private gardens/landscape gardeners and include associated dangers to operatives/gardeners when strimming areas and potentially disturbing hornet nests.
Ø The Wildlife (Jersey) Law 201-, will make it an offence for a person to deliberately damage or destroy any part of a breeding site of a protected wild animal, or to deliberately disturb any such animal. Perhaps ‘repeat offenders’ in terms of poor practise, should be made aware of potential offences under the Law?