Irish Rail to reassess hedgecutting policy during nesting season

Published by Niall Sargent on

May 16th, 2019

Irish Rail has updated its vegetation management policy to ensure that site
specific risk assessments are carried out if any tree or hedge cutting is being considered during the nesting season.

The Wildlife Act currently restricts the cutting, burning or destruction of vegetation on uncultivated land or in hedges or ditches during the nesting and breeding season for birds and wildlife from 1 March to 31 August.

The move comes after Green Party representative Pippa Hackett raised concerns with “many incidences of severe hedge trimming” and hedge removal during the cutting season along the rail line in her native Co Offaly.

“What I have witnessed over the past week in Co Offaly, close to my home, has been catastrophic for our birds and biodiversity,” she said in late April, raising the issue directly with Irish Rail.

Instead of acting, Ms Hackett said that Irish Rail “began their decimation” of mature hedge on the other side of the track the following week.

“Never have I witnessed such wanton hedgerow destruction at the height of the nesting season, with hedges on the point of bloom. Nests, chicks, and biodiversity have been mulched to the ground.

“We are in an era of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss, all caused by humans. Ireland’s landscape is no exception. It is a travesty that a state-owned company like Irish Rail should commit such an act of deliberate destruction on our environment. It is unforgivable,” Ms Hackett added.

With regard to the recent work on the Portarlington to Athlone section of the railway, the Minister for Transport Shane Ross TD said that the availability of contractor resources to undertake the works “resulted in hedges and trees being cut a number of weeks into the nesting season”.

“The company determined that the safety of the line necessitated the continuation of the works, even though this meant that they were undertaken later than originally intended,” Mr Ross said.

From now on, Mr Ross said, Irish Rail will require a “specific site risk assessment to be carried out” if such works are to be considered during the nesting season.

This will enable the company to assess if the works can be delayed until after the nesting season, he said, and to consider if “less intrusive mitigation works” could be carried out in the short term.

Ms Hackett told The Green News that she is “delighted” that Irish Rail has changed its approach and that it “shows the power of people” to raise awareness of these issues and bring about change.

“I was contacted by so many people from all over the country, and the outrage and frustration was very evident,” she said.

Hopefully, Irish Rail will embrace this new direction, and other organisations might follow suit and treat our natural environments with the respect it deserves. This is a small but significant victory for nature.”

Photo: collie ennis
Dead chick found at TCD Photo: Collie Ennis

Photos of vegetation cutting at both University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) emerged on social media this week.

The Green Party’s Lorna Bogue also challenged Kildare County Council this week over the cutting of hedgerows during the nesting season as part of the M7 upgrade.

Earlier this month, two men in Co Laois were convicted under the Wildlife Act for hedgerow destruction during the nesting season.  

The offences included the wilful destruction of birds’ nests and the destruction of vegetation growing in a hedge in late May 2017 in Clogrenan, Co Laois.

According to data released to The Green News under Access to Information on the Environment regulations, the NPWS has brought just over 30 cases linked to illegal hedgerow or vegetation cutting or removal since 2010.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London