Farm Ireland

Thursday 19 April 2018

Hedge feud - controversial legislation which will extend hedge-cutting season

Farm organisations and conservationists are on collision course over legislation that would extend the hedge-cutting season

Only 4pc of Irish hedges are on the road
Only 4pc of Irish hedges are on the road
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

Farmers should be free to cut back roadside hedges all year round on safety grounds, a leading contractor association has warned.

As frustrations over delays in progressing proposed changes to hedge cutting laws mount, farm organisations are calling on the Government to “act immediately”.

However, conservation groups say the proposals are “completely unjustified” and claim the move could potentially “wipe out” endangered bird populations nationwide.

The current law prohibits cutting, grubbing or burning of vegetation on hedges or ditches during the nesting and breeding season for birds and wildlife , from March 1 to August 31.

Under the proposed two-year pilot changes to Section 8 of the Heritage Bill,  put forward by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys, ‘managed’ hedge cutting would be allowed during August under strict criteria.

Controlled burning would also be legal in certain areas around the country during March if necessary.

The measures are designed to introduce a limited amount of flexibility to help with land management.

However, any burning and cutting will be subject to strict conditions and restrictions specified in statutory regulations to protect fauna and flora. 

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A spokesperson for the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs said: “The regulations for hedge cutting will require that any cutting in the month of August may only be of the current season’s growth and should not involve the use of heavy flails.  This will mean that any  birds nests that might still be active by August  will not be at risk”.

In addition, the Department will monitor activity under these provisions, and an assessment of the impacts will be carried out before any decision is taken on continuing these measures beyond the pilot phase.

Although farm organisations are supportive of the proposals, concerns are growing that the new time frame is still too limiting.

Peter Farrelly of Farm Contractors Ireland said all roadside hedges should be exempt from the wildlife act under road safety considerations.

“All roadside hedges should be maintained all year round so drivers have clear vision at junctions and coming out gates. Any over hanging branches coming onto the road should always be cut back.

“Only 4pc of our hedges are on the road so there are plenty of other hedges for the birds and the bees. People’s safety must come number one,” said Mr Farrelly who raised the issue with Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, in  Leinster House last week.

Thomas Cooney, chairman IFA Environment and Rural Affairs Committee is disappointed by delays in progressing the Bill - first proposed in January 2015.

“We’re disappointed that it’s not including all hedgerows especially in northern parts of the country where land is wetter and there is always difficulty for farmers on the ground to cut between September and March.

“If your hedgerows are not managed it will be picked up during inspection and penalised. It could ultimately have an impact on your single farm payment if they are not controlled,” he said.

The IFA is calling on the Government to immediately progress it through the Seanad and the Dail so tillage farmers  in particular can reap the benefits while fencing next spring.

Mr Cooney is confident small bird species including robins and yellowhammers, will not be affected. He stresses that farmers don’t want to damage the environment.

“Hedgerows with big trunks and very high branches hanging way out into a field wouldn’t be a great habitat for birds so this will actually enhance the environment from a wildlife point of view,” he said.

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