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Council urged to keep hedgerows out of Official Plan

A municipal staff report on hedgerows (fence bottoms and tree lines) and recommendations for stronger wording in the County’s draft Official Plan will go back to staff to seek wording that doesn’t explicitly implicate farmers, and agriculture practices, in the future.

County staff were first directed to investigate inclusion of hedgerows in the Official Plan in May 2018 following a deputation by Elizabeth Blomme and Bill Bonter, on behalf of Natural Heritage Conservation PEC asking the municipality to consider ways to “conserve the disappearing cultural heritage asset”.

Wellington farmer Scott Simpson addressed council Thursday to speak against putting hedgerows in the plan.

“It will end up being a creep,” he said. “Within five years, all of a sudden it will all be in a plan and pursued in detail, as rules.”

Councillor, and farmer, Phil Prinzen agreed. “It’s a wedge. As soon as the door is open with fingers in it, no one will close the door on the fingers.”

Farmer Kurt VanClief wrote to councillors to state his concerns with potential challenges.

“Sustainability of how we manage this asset is extremely important to us,” he wrote. “The potential hedgerow policy will potentially create challenges to how we maintain our farm.”

Noting he is not a proponent of clear cutting and transforming Prince Edward County to the western Canadian Praries, he pointed out “agriculture has changed; it is a high volume, low margin business.”

He noted larger equipment in use today, expensive land costs and that large fencerows cast significant shade and rob moisture.

“I can think of a similar example the offers a perspective on this issue. I really like to eat in small Mom and Pop restaurants. If I came to council asking you to limit the size of all restaurants to seating capacity of 20 because l really like the way it used to be, wouldn’t that cause concern?”

Councillor Janice Maynard, and others agreed they want no hardship for farmers.

“Our farmers are the best stewards of the land and this will set up unrealistic expectations,” she said, suggesting a more fulsome report is required before landing in the Official Plan.

Planner Paul Walsh stated the policy won’t affect agriculture. He noted the municipality currently encourages working co-operatively to preserve hedgerows but has no explicit policy. If it were part of the Official Plan, he confirmed the potential effect “would be further guidance to applicants”.

Acting CAO Robert McAuley added it could also be a benefit if the municipality found itself in a tribunal or before a board and stated it would be valuable dealing with tourist/commercial issues as well as farms.

“There is some merit,” said Maynard. “But the focus on the farms is unnecessary if that’s not the intent.”

Councillor Brad Nieman agreed, asking that the wording be re-written to not target the agricultural community.

The motion noted the County may utilize tools provided in the plan and planning act to implement natural heritage policies – including zoning bylaws, site plan control, draft plan approvals, development agreements, requirements identified in Environmental Impact Study, site alteration or tree and forest bylaws as well as public awareness programs.

Peter Jeffery, Senior Farm Policy Analyst with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, in a letter to the PEC Federation and included in the council report, also urged opposition as “adding protection to hedgerows and fence lines is far outside the current scope of protecting natural heritage features and areas,” under the PPS.

He also emphasizes that protecting hedgerows runs contrary to the policy direction of the PPS and “would limit the ability of agricultural uses to continue… restricting ability to remove a hedgerow restricting one’s ability to grow crops.”

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  1. Dennis Fox says:

    If farmers are finding this hedgerow discussion a little too uncomfortable for them to take part in, then perhaps it is time for the municiplaity to use the road set back and plant their own hedgerow – or erect snow fencing until planting has been completed – the money can be found by eliminating the reduced farm tax that we are all paying for.

  2. SEW says:

    Funny, County Road 4 just outside of Picton looks like Urban Sprawl…

  3. Fred says:

    2 – 3 miles from Picton on Cty Rd 4, does look like the prarie. And the hedgerows keep coming down. Dust storms and in winter is a very dangerous area with drifting snow.

  4. Dennis Fox says:

    One of the major benefits of hedgerows is being a wind break – particularly during the winter. The snow blowing acroos open fields can create very dangerous driving conditions on our roads. Also, they help prevent soil erosion by blockomh the wind. I ahven’t heard yet what logical rationale has been given for not wanting them to be recognized in the official plan.

  5. SEW says:

    Actually, buckthorn, which is running rampant in the hedgerow vegetation, is an invasive species that acts as a vector for Oat Rust and an overwintering location for Soybean Aphids. Both are pests that affect crops grown in the County. Hedgerows rob moisture from crops and the shade they cast affects growth. And no, the County does not look like a prairie…

  6. Jimv says:

    Hedgerows are a vital link to an ever fraying environment. They must be protected the allow a wee bit ofhabitat for animals, birds, etc. to live. Many farmers have not in fact been great stewards. My parents old farm was devastated when the new owner took out 150 year old hedgerows to create an industrial looking farm.

  7. Dennis Fox says:

    I find it to be very self-serving for farmers to pick which items they don’t want to take part in (like the Official Plan), which benefits everyone – but are quick to argue for a tax break like the reduction of the farm tax ratio – paid for by all other taxpayers.

  8. Fred says:

    A short drive out Cty Rd 4 from Picton looks like the praries. And the hedgerows continue to be excavated, tax break included.

  9. Tech2 says:

    I should think that given the majority of hedgerows are owned by the agricultural community, it is right that they are highlighted in the document. Given that the farmers are responsible for spraying 5.4 million kg of pesticide on the ontario landscape, I would question Councillor Maynard’s comment that farmers are the best stewards of the land. Especially given that 1.5 million kg of this was Glyphosate which the World Health Organisation state is ‘probably carcinogenic’. Hardly stewardship.

  10. Dennis Fox says:

    How can Councillor Prinzen comment on a topic that directly effects him, and then vote on the matter? Isn’t this a case of conflict of interest?

  11. Mike Rodgers says:

    And who would police this, I was told by a bylaw officer that they do react to any bylaw infractions unless there is a complaint. In other words if this is true a bylaw officer will walk pass you while you are breaking a bylaw if no one has complained. Is this true?

  12. Janet Mooney says:

    Or even better, check out the many articles on climate change mitigation. Perhaps protecting, promoting and enhancing our hedgerows could be one way for us to address the stated Climate Change Emergency. Hedgerows may also increase yield for crops such as winter wheat.

  13. Janet Mooney says:

    Hedgerows are much more than a “cultural heritage asset”; they have both purposes for humans and, perhaps more importantly, benefits to the planet. For information, check out the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s article on hedgerows, found on google.

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