The Environmental Pillar reiterates that hedgerow cutting remains illegal during the month of August, and calls for stronger enforcement of existing wildlife laws.
Ireland’s leading environmental coalition calls for existing wildlife laws on hedgerow cutting to be strictly enforced this month to avoid any further devastation to our wildlife and habitats this year.
The Environmental Pillar – a coalition of 26 national environmental organisations – also fears that proposals under the Heritage Bill will only further reduce oversight of biodiversity protection.
At present, the cutting of any hedgerows and upland burning between 1 March and 31 August is an offence under the Wildlife Acts, unless exempted. And for good reason.
In March, upland-nesting birds such as the near extinct curlew mate and establish nesting sites.
In August, our hedgerows provide foods for numerous species of birds, bees, and butterflies, as well as nesting grounds for late breeding species such as the endangered yellowhammer.
Yet, numerous Pillar members have reported cases of cutting and flailing of roadside hedges during the prohibited period this year.
And the proposed Heritage Bill would make this situation even worse. Section 8 of the Bill would allow for the cutting of hedgerows in August under a proposed two-year pilot project.
This pilot project – which lacks any scientific basis – has the potential to roll back 17 years of protection for our roadside hedgerows, and would have a catastrophic effect on several species of conservation concern.
The Heritage Minister, Heather Humphreys, has cited road safety concerns as the reason behind her push for the Bill. However, Section 40 (2) of the Wildlife Act already gives grounds for roadside hedge cutting during the closed season for reasons of public health or safety.
A petition – created by several Environmental Pillar members – calling on the government to reconsider the changes in the Bill has almost reached its goal of 30,000 signatures, indicating a huge wave of public support to quash the Bill.
The Heritage Bill would also allow for the burning of gorse during March and could lead to more serious Gorse fires like those that wreaked havoc across the county earlier this year.
A series of deliberately started scrub fires raged across the country in May, with the Air Corps and Defence Forces called in on several occasions.
These fires undoubtedly destroyed the nests and food stores of birds and other wildlife, destroyed millions of euro worth of forestry, and incinerated endangered wildlife and conservation habitats.
Two active Hen Harrier nests were destroyed in the Sliabh Beagh Special Protection Area shared between Counties Monaghan and Tyrone in May, for example.
Fintan Kelly of BirdWatch Ireland said:
“Hedgerows are hugely important for birds and other wildlife especially for providing places for nesting, for food and for shelter. Several species of birds nest in hedgerows right through August and into September. One of these is the Yellowhammer whose populations have reduced dramatically due to habitat loss.
“Hedgecutting outside of the current legal period will drive declines in a number of bird species and push some birds and pollinators towards national extinction. This is not the kind of legacy we should be leaving to future generations.”
Charles Stanley Smith of An Taisce said:
“Hedgerows are an important part of our landscape. They are also a vital repository for native woodland in Ireland, and we have so little woodland compared to other countries.
“So in addition to providing food, nesting sites and habitat corridors to native wildlife species, they prevent soil erosion, store carbon and so contribute to managing climate change.”
Neil Foulkes of the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland said:
“This year we have already seen plenty of flailing of roadside hedges during the nesting season, Some necessary for safety purposes, but much of a very questionable nature.
“We need to go back to the drawing board on this bill and have a proper stakeholder engagement to come up with a Sustainable Hedgerow Management plan for Ireland, which works for farmers, road users, and biodiversity, and which provides for sensible exemptions with appropriate oversight to avoid abuse.”
Pádraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust said:
“If people suspect illegal cutting is taking place, please report it to your local Gardaí or National Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger.
“They will need details of the date, time and location, and, if possible, a photograph or video for evidence.
“As August is a particularly crucial month for wildlife, we must ensure that the relevant laws are enforced to help protect vulnerable wildlife species.”