'Allowing hedge cutting in August would wipe out a quarter of nesting birds'
Road safety arguments for changes to hedge cutting laws are a "red-herring" and will "wipe out" endangered bird populations, say wildlife groups.
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."