Minister will not allow roadside hedge cutting this August

Published by Niall Sargent on

July 16th, 2019

The Minister for Heritage has announced that she will not proceed with regulations that would have allowed for roadside hedge cutting this August on a trial basis. 

Josepha Madigan said that she made the decision in recognition of the need to protect Irish nature and biodiversity. Hedge cutting for road safety purposes will still be allowed year-round.

The Minister was given discretionary powers under the controversial Heritage Act brought in last year to allow for the cutting of roadside hedges during August on a trial basis in 2019 and 2020.

The Wildlife Act currently restrict 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.

Conservation groups strongly disagreed with the proposal, calling on the Minister to forego her new powers that they said would have a negative impact on birds, pollinators and other species that rely on hedgerows for food, shelter, as corridors of movement, and for nesting and hibernation.

Ms Madigan said today that it’s clear from both recent international and national studies that “we need to provide greater protection” for biodiversity. “It would be wrong and would send out all the wrong signals to extend hedge cutting further into August this year.”

A comprehensive international report published in May by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) revealed that the threat of extinction is looming over one million species of plants and animals.

In Ireland, recently released data has shown that many of our habitats are under threat, together with bee populations and various bird species that frequent our island.

Kieran Flood of the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) welcomed Ms Madigan’s announcement and the fact that the decision was made “based on data detailing Ireland’s biodiversity decline”.

“The drastic reductions in protection for nature brought about by the Heritage Act is considered by the IWT and other environmental groups to be both unnecessary and dangerous to wildlife. We are glad to see [hedgecutting] is not being allowed this August.”

Hedge removal during nesting season by Irish Rail Photo: Pippa Hackett

Hedgecutting cases

Earlier this year, Irish Rail 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 move came after Green Party Councillor 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.

In May, two men in Co Laois were found guilty and convicted under the Wildlife Act for hedgerow destruction during the nesting season between 22 and 27 May 2017 in Clogrenan, Co Laois.

The case was brought forward by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) earlier this month. The two men were convicted of four offences under the Wildlife Act.

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

This account for a little over 15 per cent of cases brought by the service between 2010 and 2018, with other cases involving the likes of illegal hare coursing, bird trapping and tree removal.

Drone eye view of fire in Saggart in 2018. Firefighters from Tallaght, Rathfarnham and HQ attended the scene Photo: Dublin Fire Brigade

Upland burning

In March, Ms Madigan announced that she would not make regulations allowed for under the Heritage Act to extend the season for the burning of vegetation into March following an “exceptionally dry” winter.

Analysis of Met Eireann data by Ms Madigan’s department showed that the first two months of 2019 were “exceptionally dry” with rainfall almost 30 per cent below the 30-year average.

Ms Madigan has previously indicated that granting an extension to the burning period would be conditional on adverse weather conditions that prevent burning during the prescribed open period.

Biodiversity experts have raised concerns that such a move would have a devastating impact on breeding birds such as the near-extinct curlew that begins its nesting activities in March, as well as other bird species that nest in scrub.

The burning provision in the Heritage Act will expire after a two-year pilot period although the period may be continued for periods of up to three years by resolution by each House of the Oireachtas.

Biodiversity absent from climate plan

Ms Madigan said that the Government is making “real progress protecting and restoring our environment”, with the recent all-of-Government climate plan “proof of this”.

Environmental groups, however, have been heavily critical of the plan that they say falls flat on nature protection, insufficiently joining the dots between the biodiversity and climate emergencies facing us.

According to the Environmental Pillar – a coalition of over 30 national environmental groups – the forestry sector, for example, is “mostly aspirational with scant details on how we increase treecover in Ireland”.

“The wording around forestry is also very vague, with no mention of the words native woodlands or native forests or even native species,” the Pillar said.

In addition, conservation groups have voiced concern over the lack of inclusion of a hedgerow conservation strategy called for by the Joint Oireachtas Climate Action Committee.

Instead, the Government has proposed to commission a study to quantify the climate mitigation and adaptation potential of hedgerows by 2021. Hedgerows act as carbon sinks, estimated to cover over six per cent – 450,000 hectares – of our landmass.

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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