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Reminder issued about hedge-cutting ban to protect birds during nesting season

A breach of the Wildlife Act can result in a conviction and fine.

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THE GOVERNMENT HAS issued a reminder that hedge-cutting is banned from today until the end of August to protect wildlife during nesting season.

Under the terms of the Wildlife Act, roadside hedge-cutting is only permitted between 1 September and the end of February.

The law aims to protect and maintain wildlife diversity by establishing areas where birds, in particular, can thrive during nesting season. It prohibits cutting, grubbing, burning or destruction of vegetation.

There are exceptions to the legislation such as works undertaken in the ordinary course of agriculture or forestry, for public health and safety reasons – including road safety – the destruction of noxious weeds and the development of sites for building works.

An investigation on hedge cutting policy published last week by Noteworthy revealed that at least 3,000km of hedges were cut back by local authorities since 2018 during the prohibited season between March and August.

Nearly all cases were carried out on road safety grounds, however authorities were unable to provide Noteworthy with documents on road safety assessments carried out. 

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Local Government and Housing has said it wants people to be aware of this ban as we move through the spring and summer.

“In Ireland, where there is relatively low cover of native woodland, hedges are of exceptional importance in providing food and shelter and habitats and corridors for maintaining wildlife diversity, particularly for birds, but also for other fauna and for wild plants,” they said.

“Wrens, dunnocks, robins, thrushes and willow warblers as well as many rarer species depend greatly on hedgerow habitats.

“In general, untrimmed, thorned hedgerows containing shrubs such as blackthorn, whitethorn, holly, briars and brambles are favoured by birds as they provide food, shelter, nesting places and protection from predators during the breeding season.”

While it is rare, there have been a number of convictions of people found to have broken this law. Records released to Noteworthy show that the NPWS brought 88 successful prosecutions between 2007 and 2020 for illegal hedge cutting or removal.

Fines, costs and donations to charities totalling just under €58,000 were paid by the guilty parties. In some cases, those convicted were ordered to pay up to €1,000 to conservation groups.

In one case in Westmeath in 2020, two guilty individuals were ordered to make a contribution of €5,000 to a bird conservation project.

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In May 2019, two men in Co Carlow were fined after they were convicted of four offences under the Wildlife Act for hedge cutting out of season.

Carlow District Court saw evidence from the NPWS that one mile of hedgerow vegetation containing the nests of four bird species, including Blackbird, Song Thrush, Wren and Wood Pigeon, had been destroyed as a result of their actions. One of the men received a fine of €750, the other was fined €500.

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In a separate case that same year, a man in Tipperary was charged with the destruction of vegetation growing in a hedge during the bird nesting season.

Evidence presented to Nenagh District Court showed that just under 1.5 kilometres of hedgerow vegetation had been severely cut back, with a further 137m completely removed during the bird nesting season. The man was issued with a €1,000 fine.

Additional reporting by Niall Sargent of Noteworthy

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