April 25th, 2018
An alliance of conservation NGO’s and concerned citizens gathered outside Leinster House today to protest against proposed changes in the controversial Heritage Bill.
The alliance called up Minister Josepha Madigan to remove sections of the Bill that it believes threaten wildlife habitat ahead of a hearing of the Joint Committee on Heritage this afternoon.
The Bill introduced by the former Minister for Heritage Heather Humphrey in January 2016 outlines plans to allow for scrub burning in March and hedge cutting in August.
Currently, hedge-cutting and burning of vegetation in upland and lowland hills are prohibited between March 1st and August 31st.
Minister Madigan tweeted following the Committee hearing called on all sides in the debate “not to scaremonger”, adding that the Bill will “ensure the conservation status of wildlife”.
However, burning of vegetation in March would critically endanger birds that are just starting to breed and will also impact bees that depend on the gorse as a food source, according to BirdWatch Ireland.
The conservation alliance added that if hedgecutting is extended to August, it could create a dangerous precedent, allowing landowners to self-define road safety issues as they deem fit.
This would result in severe consequences for endangered birds and pollinators who depend on hedgerows for food, the alliance warned.
Assistant Head of Policy and Advocacy of Bird Watch Ireland Oonagh Duggan commented that the proposed Bill would be “disastrous for the uplands and hedgerows”.
“There is an opportunity here for Minister Madigan to drop Sections 7 and 8 of the Heritage Bill and to set up a dialogue where all players can sit together and work out long-term solutions for our uplands and hedgerows,” Ms Duggan added.
An Taisce’s Natural Environment Officer, Elaine McGoff, recalled how one fire alone last year destroyed thousands of hectares of mountain and forest habitat along with wildlife.
“Changes to wildlife legislation should strengthen the protection for nature, not reduce it. Unfortunately, the Government has got this one the wrong way around with the damaging Heritage Bill,” she added.
The alliance launched the ‘No more slash and burn’ campaign in 2017 asking the public to sign a petition to show support for Irish wildlife by opposing the proposed changes in the Heritage Act. The petition currently has 31,043 signatures.
A recent research project from Leeds University on the effects of moorland burning on peatlands linked controlled burning to habitat and biodiversity loss, pollution of water courses, reduced soil fertility and the loss of carbon sinks.