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Sunday 4 December 2016

'Allowing hedge cutting in August would wipe out a quarter of nesting birds'

Claire McCormack

Published 29/11/2016 | 17:00

The Yellowhammer is one of the birds that conservationists claim will be wiped out by extended hedge cutting
The Yellowhammer is one of the birds that conservationists claim will be wiped out by extended hedge cutting

Road safety arguments for changes to hedge cutting laws are a "red-herring" and will "wipe out" endangered bird populations, say wildlife groups.

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Conservationists describe the proposed changes as a "retrograde step" in terms of sustainable farming.

Alex Copland, senior conservation officer with BirdWatch Ireland said the proposals were illogical.

"The current Wildlife Act already allows for hedge cutting at any time of the year for road safety so the proposals don't make any sense, so we don't believe road safety is Minister Humphrey's primary concern," he said.

"We believe the real reason is to allow tillage farmers to cut their hedges in August so they can sow crops in September but unfortunately the legislation makes no reference to that," he added.

Copeland believes the impact on wildlife and biodiversity could be enormous.

"August is the month when blackberries are ripening and hawthorn is coming on. Allowing farmers to cut their hedges will remove all those critical food sources. It's beyond belief that this would be justified," he said. "The yellowhammer is red listed and populations have declined in Ireland by 90pc over the last 25 years. It's a species that nests very late in hedges up to the end of August," he said.

"To allow hedge cutting in August could see a quarter of all nesting birds wiped out. They say it's a two year pilot but if the yellowhammer is completely wiped out after two years what then? They won't be coming back."

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The Hedge Laying Association of Ireland (HLAI) also claim the road safety arguments are a "red-herring".

Neil Foulkes, HLAI spokesman, said: "There is adequate provision and oversight in the existing legislation for road safety issues to be dealt with throughout the closed period."

The HLAI stressed that agricultural arguments for the changes could be addressed through modified management regimes.

"There is no necessity for hedge cutting in August to facilitate re-seeding of grassland as hedges could be cut on a two- or three-year rotation leaving them uncut during the period of cultivation," he said.

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