Monday 26 August 2019

Irish Rail defend destruction of mature hedgerow and trees during nesting season

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

Irish Rail have defended cutting down trees and mature hedgerow along their tracks during nesting season, saying safety of train journeys is paramount.

According to legislation introduced in 2000, it is an offence to 'cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy hedgerows on uncultivated land during the nesting season.’

The ban is provided by Section 40 of the Wildlife Act, 1976, as amended by Section 46 of the 2000 Act and establishes the closed period as ‘March 1 to August 31, subject to certain exceptions'.

However, before and after photographs have been shared online of hedgerow along the Galway to Dublin rail line in Co Offaly which was completely cut down during the closed period.

Green Party Spokesperson on Agriculture, Food, Forestry, Heritage & Animal Welfare Pippa Hackett slammed the significant damage to the hedgerow.

"Both sides of the hedge have been removed down to nothing," she said.

A photo of the hedgerow pre-cutting (Photo: Pippa Hackett)
A photo of the hedgerow pre-cutting (Photo: Pippa Hackett)

"I just think the hedge cutting season closes because it is the nesting season. I appreciate rail safety is paramount but there is nothing exceptional about that hedge. Exceptional circumstances is that the tree is about to fall on the line.

"I would say that four of five metres was taken down off that hedge. It’s mulched by a machine from the top down. I was speaking with Birdwatch Ireland and Irish Wildlife Trust and they that there would have most definitely have been birds and chicks and eggs."

A photo of the hedgerow post-cutting (Photo: Pippa Hackett)
A photo of the hedgerow post-cutting (Photo: Pippa Hackett)

Speaking of the incident described by Ms Hackett, Irish Rail spokesperson Barry Kenny admitted that the hedgerow was cut during the off season, but claimed that it was done in accordance with the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause of the law.

Mr Kenny said that the conservation of the wildlife and flora on their routes is a priority for them, but that the safe journeys of their trains is more important.

"Iarnród Eireann are committed to maintaining and enhancing biodiversity along our route corridors," he told Independent.ie.

"Iarnród Éireann endeavour to do as much vegetation work during the winter months, however this is sometimes not practical or safe.

"Vegetation management conducted outside of the season is undertaken in exceptional circumstances only and via derogation under section 49 of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure Act) 2001 to ‘cut or lop any tree, hedge or shrub’ where safety or operability is undermined.

"In this particular area on the Dublin to Galway line, the trees had grown very high causing visibility issues, and had caused damage to fencing allowing animal incursions."

Mr Kenny continued;

"In this respect we are continually reviewing and updating our vegetation management protocols as well as engaging, on an on-going basis, with competent technical groups such as Woodlands of Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and various environmental specialists.

"Our primary objective is to provide a safe rail system as mandated under the Railway Safety Act 2005. Tree and vegetation related incidents can have a profound adverse impact on the operability and safe passage of trains.

"In order to address this issue, vegetation management is a core activity undertaken by Iarnród Éireann Infrastructure and is an integral part of maintaining a safe operational railway line."

Irish Rail have agreed to meet Ms Hackett to discuss how they treat the hedgerow on their routes in the future.

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