Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 7 December 2016

War of the hedges: Farmers and environmentalists at odds over hedgecutting laws

Published 06/11/2016 | 15:30

The bitter debate over changes to the laws governing hedgecutting in Ireland comes to a head in the Seanad this week.

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The proposed changes to Section 40 of the Wildlife Act are contained in the Heritage Bill 2016 which is set to be debated by senators this Wednesday.

The current law prohibits the cutting, grubbing, burning or destruction of vegetation, with certain strict exemptions, from March 1 to August 31, during the nesting and breeding season for birds and wildlife.

The proposed changes, being introduced by  Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys, provide for a two-year pilot law that  would allow hedgecutting in August and burning in March and therefore give farmers and landowners an additional month to complete each of these activities.

Farmers are in favour of the Bill, so much so, that the Irish Farmers Association  recently completed a round of lobbing of Senators to ensure that the Bill is progressed through the Oireachtas.

According to Thomas Cooney of the IFA, the proposed measures to extend hedge cutting and gorse burning on a pilot basis, must be immediately introduced.

“They are balanced and will facilitate better land management and road safety,” he says.

He also welcomes a new research programme which will  investigate whether the changes have any impact on wildlife during the pilot phase, saying this will facilitate a fact-based approach to future decisions in this area.

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“The measures in the Bill provide for a pragmatic approach to addressing issues such as overgrown hedges impacting on roads and vegetation management, while ensuring the protection of biodiversity. I would be hopeful of a positive response to the Bill in the Seanad this week.”

Opposition

The Irish Wildlife Trust, Birdwatch Ireland, An Taisce, and the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland are all opposed to the provisions in bill which they describe as unjustified and damaging to natural heritage.

The groups are asking citizens to write or email a Senator to highlight their concerns about this Bill’s impact on the environment.  

According to the opposed groups, “during these months, birds are trying to lay eggs and raise chicks and other wildlife, such as bees and hedgehogs, are still dependent on these ecosystems.

“Strong data already exists showing that birds are nesting during August and March, however there is a severe lack of scientific data to suggest that these changes to the Wildlife Act would not have a disastrous effect on wildlife, including wild bees and threatened birds such as yellowhammer and curlew.

“Significant research over at least 3 years would be needed before the proposed changes can be safely made introduced,” they say.

In addition, the groups highlight that a reason this Bill has been proposed is to allow for cutting of hedgerows in August for road safety reason but there already exists legal exemptions to the Wildlife Act to allow cutting where there are road safety issues.

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