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Wildlife Act

'Butchered and mutilated': How the government was alerted to out-of-season hedge-cutting last year

Hedge-cutting and burning is banned every year between 1 March and 31 August.

THE ACTIVITIES OF farmers, commercial tree-fellers and a GAA club were among the subjects of complaints submitted to the Government about out-of-season hedge-cutting last year.

A selection of correspondence to the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government has shown the reasons why members of the public alerted the Government about potentially illegal hedge-cutting.

Hedge-cutting and burning is banned every year between 1 March and 31 August under the Wildlife Act.

The law aims to protect and maintain wildlife diversity by establishing areas where wildlife can thrive during seasons when nests and flowers are more common.

Hedgerows are crucial to maintain wildlife diversity and to establish habitats, particularly for birds.

Those who break the Act by engaging in hedge cutting or burning between March and August can be summonsed before court and fined.

Correspondence released to The Journal under the Freedom of Information Act reveals details of complaints about hedge-cutting submitted to the department last year.

Only a selection of complaints were provided, due to the volume of people who contacted the department about the issue during 2021.

‘An inordinate amount of tree-felling’

In March last year, one individual from Westmeath contacted the department over what they described as “an inordinate amount of tree-felling” outside of hedge-cutting season.

“This felling started yesterday and has continued today… and it is looking like more trees will be felled in the coming days,” they wrote.

“Could you inform me if this is a directive from Westmeath County Council or otherwise? The trees that were removed were healthy and were nesting places for owls and other birds.”

They attached a picture, which showed freshly cut hedges along a roadside, adding: “Are there plans for these trees to be replaced?”

The same month, another individual contacted the department to say they were “shocked” about the removal of a hedge at a GAA club during the first week of March.

“There was a huge number of birds in this hedge. I used to hear them every morning irrespective of the weather on my commute. Removing the hedge has destroyed a much needed habitat and nesting site in an urban area,” the complainant wrote.

“Removing a hedge of this depth and length will only increase the noise pollution from the hurley balls being hit against the wall. Obviously, this ceased during lockdown, but you can imagine how wearing it is for 12 hours plus, seven days a week.”

The following month, another individual from Louth also raised concerns about the felling of trees during nesting season – and about whether this counted as essential work when a full Covid-19 lockdown was still in place.

“I was wondering if it is allowed to cut down trees at this time of the year with likely nests in the tree?” the person wrote.

“Our neighbours cut down two large trees yesterday as they were blocking her sunlight. These trees also provided a damper effect to the sound of the busy road separated from us by a field.

“At a time of national lockdown where we can’t even visit our families, is this deemed essential work for the contractor?”

Also in April, another person contacted the department with a short complaint about hedge-cutting in an unspecified part of the country.

“Whilst walking today I photographed this. What’s the story?” they said, attaching a picture:

‘They couldn’t care less’

The same month, another complainant from the south of the country contacted the department about hedge-cutting and tree-felling over a long stretch of road, attaching a number of pictures.

“These were cut in the last week, it’s clear to see. Hedgerow destroyed and every tree in sight for half a kilometre cut down,” they wrote.

“This was in no way for safety reasons. No trees posed any danger and the fact they just destroyed the hedgerow along with the trees shows they [the person who cut down the trees] couldn’t care less.”

Hedgepic5 Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government

A similar complaint was made in Waterford in May, when an individual contacted the department about the spraying of a hedgerow along a 2km stretch of road.

“All vegetation on the ditch is dead, along with whatever insect/invertebrate life that was on the ditch, burnt by spray, presumably herbicide,” the person wrote.

“The spraying probably was done at least 2 weeks previously. This is a stone/clay ditch and without vegetation to bind the soil, it is likely to disintegrate and collapse over time.”

In June, another person in Limerick wrote to the department to complain about the activity of farmers clearing ditches in their local area.

“I am no major ornithologist, but of late I’ve seen a few examples in the countryside near to where I live: farmers seem to be clearing dykes and clearing all shrubs from ditches – and to my mind clearing all birds nests,” they said.

“They are totally obliterating ditches and hedge-rows. Is this not totally destroying habitats for birds and their fledglings at this time of the year? I thought all that was banned until the autumn?”

The same month, another person complained about the activities of commercial tree-fellers sharing details of their work online.

“There are many, many, companies posting pictures of all the “recent” work they have done in gardens,” the complainant wrote.

“Decimating hedges and trees at a time when they shouldn’t. There are a few posting their services online, and showing complete removal of hedges, not just trimming.”

‘Butchered and mutilated’

In August, another person in Cork wrote to the department about what they said was the destruction of a centuries-old natural green area.

“I would like to report what I believe to be the destruction to flora, fauna and animal habitat in my area,” the person said.

“A new house was built in adjacent to our property. After a period of time, the new owners decided to bring large diggers in to a site alongside them to destroy the quarry and remove many trees and fauna, which were a breeding ground and habitat for wild foxes, rabbits and birds.

“Work has ceased as a complaint was made, but I would like to make you aware of what I believe was a determined effort to remove what was a natural green area for many 100s of years.”

In September, an individual in Wexford complained about one of the trees in their estate being “butchered and mutilated” at the end of August.

“The tree was planted when the houses were constructed in 2004,” the person said.

“I was not notified or consulted by anyone about this work and the tree will now die as a result of the mutilation. Surely something must be done about this act of brutality on nature.”

It is not clear whether the department investigated any of the complaints above, whether any action was taken against those who were complained about, or whether any wrongdoing or illegal activity occurred.

The Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government was contacted for comment.

  • The Journal’s investigative platform Noteworthy recently reported that the National Parks and Wildlife Service brought almost 50 prosecutions for illegal hedge cutting during the bird nesting season last year.
  • Noteworthy also reported last year that Ireland is losing an abundance of hedgerow each year, with at least 3,000km cut back by local authorities since 2018 during March and August. 

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