Ireland’s endangered birds are being put in further danger by a proposed new law which promotes the destruction of their habitats, claimed angry protesters today.
The curlew and the yellow-hammer species, once plentiful and key members of Ireland’s wildlife, will suffer further serious decline under proposals to allow farmers to burn vegetation during the month of March and to cutback and destroy hedgerows and bushes during the month of August.
Hedgerows are full of berries and other food for wildlife during August.
Bumble bees and many types of wild honey bees will also suffer by extending the permitted times to slash and cut down vegetation and flowering wild plants in the months of August, claimed the protesters who gathered outside Leinster House in Dublin today.
Arts and Heritage Minister Heather Humphries introduced a Heritage Bill in the Seanad yesterday that would extend the hedgerow cutting times by allowing the cutting of wild vegetation to begin on August 1 instead of September 1. This would extend the six month cutting season to seven months.
Burning upland vegetation, which is currently permitted between September 1 and the last day of February, would also be allowed to happen during the month of March under the proposals.
Alex Copland of Birdwatch Ireland said “Curlews begin seeking nests and breeding territories in March and they will not breed if the vegetation is burned. Curlews are facing global extinction. There are only 125 pairs of curlews left in Ireland.
“This change in the rules would be the last straw for curlews. There would be too few left and they would die out,” he said.
The evocative cry of the curlew was, in former years, the ultimate sound of wild Ireland. The rules change would signal a catastrophe for curlews.
Yellow hammers, known as Ireland’s wild canaries, or Buiog in Irish, have disappeared from many parts of Ireland. Many yellow hammer chicks are still in their nests during August yet this proposed law would allow their nests to be destroyed during this vital time, he said.
“The British Government actually copied Ireland’s existing dates for burning and cutting with new laws to protect birds in Britain. Yet, in Ireland, they now want to withdraw a vital part of that protection during bird-breeding season,” he said.
Beekeeper Gerry Ryan (63), president of the Irish Beekeepers’ Association, travelled from Dundrum, Co Tipperary, for the protest and wore his bee-keeping hat and mask.
“Allowing the destruction of vegetation in August would be devastating for Ireland’s bees. Clover and blackberries are still in flower. The bumble bees and honey bees need these blossoms and flowering ivy to build themselves up to survive the winter,” said Mr Ryan.
“A whole range of different species need this vegetation in August, including butterflies, rabbits, field mice and other animals,” he said.
Other groups to protest against the proposed new law yesterday were the Irish Wildlife Trust and An Taisce.
All the groups stated the Irish Government was attempting to weaken laws that protect biodiversity and breeding birds while at the same time trying to promote Ireland’s ‘green image.’
Their spokeswoman Oonagh Duggan said “Over 26,000 people have signed a petition saying no to these changes. We ask senators to listen to these voices and to reject Section 8 of the Heritage Bill on the basis that it ignores the science which says that it could seriously impact on nesting birds and could be the death knell for some species already in trouble.
“But it will also impact bees, which need all the help they can get, not Government-condoned habitat destruction.
“If this bill is passed it will send a clear message that Ireland is not serious about protecting its natural heritage for generations to come”.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins said the Heritage Bill “seems more like an anti-heritage bill.”
“We need to safeguard our shared heritage for generations to come instead of introducing flawed legislation that threatens its existence,” she said.
It was misleading to claim the Bill promoted road safety as hedge-cutting is allowed at any time where road safety is a concern, she said.