From today, hedgecutting and upland burning in Ireland is prohibited until September as debate rages over new proposals to shorten the closed seasons.
Currently it is illegal to cut, remove/destroy hedgerows and burn vegetation in our uplands between March 1 and August 31 in order to protect breeding birds.
The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and the Gaeltacht (AHRRG), Heather Humphreys is working to push the 2016 Heritage Bill through the Oireachtas which includes proposals to change the dates for hedgecutting and upland burning which are contained in the Wildlife Act.
The Minister is proposing a two-year pilot law with a rollover clause which would allow hedgecutting in August and burning in March which gives farmers and landowners a 7th month for these activities.
The issue is before the Seanad again this week and debate over the issue is likely to be heated.
The bill was introduced in the Seanad and passed the first stage in January 2016 before the Oireachtas was dissolved in advance of last year's General Election.
Environmentalists say the proposed new season's are times when birds are attempting to nest, lay eggs and raise their young.
Opposition to a proposal now includes a petition of over 26,000 signatures.
An Taisce, Birdwatch Ireland, the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland and the Irish Wildlife Trust have joined forces to stop these changes.
The environmental coalition is calling on Senators and the Minister to collect the necessary scientific data needed to inform any proposed changes before those changes are made.
BirdWatch Ireland says it has the data showing that birds are nesting during August and March. It says the Minister is 'ignoring the science'.
Farmers however, are in favour of the Bill, so much so, that the Irish Farmers Association completed a round of lobbing of Senators last year 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.
They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That has never stopped me making New Year resolutions, however, even if many of my aspirations fail to reach fruition.
“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.”