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Environmentalists cut "deep wounds" in government's bill on hedge-cutting extension

The Irish Wildlife Trust has said that Minister Heather Humphreys ‘isn’t taking the protection of our natural heritage seriously’.

03/05/13 Weather wildlife bird. A Robin enjoys the Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

THIS WEEK, THE Seanad debated proposed changes through the Heritage Bill 2016, which would change the dates during which hedge-cutting and burning of ditches would be allowed.

The current Wildlife Act prohibits the cutting and burning of ditches and hedges from 1 March to 31 August, during the nesting and breeding season for birds and wildlife.

The proposed changes, being introduced by Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys, provide for a two-year pilot law that would allow hedge-cutting in August and burning in March – giving farmers and landowners an additional month to complete each of these activities.

Critics of the changes say that the change in dates would have a serious impact on a range of wildlife species and habitats in Ireland, and would pose a huge threat to nesting birds and other creatures found in hedgerows and uplands.

On Wednesday of this week, environmentalist groups and various senators argued their case against the bill, with some saying that the pilot needed to be based off recommendations before it would be implemented.

Senator Grace O’Sullivan said that the debate had been ajourned after the amendments hadn’t been approved, but that “deep wounds made to this poorly-structured legislation”.

Irish Wildlife Trust Campaign Officer, Pádraic Fogarty had some strong words for both the proposed changes, and Minister Heather Humphreys.

“It is unclear why changes to hedge-cutting and burning dates are needed, while it is very clear that if the changes go ahead we will see major impacts to our wildlife.

Already we have seen massive declines in the populations of farmland birds and pollinating insects – if anything we need laws that will reverse these declines, not make them worse.
Minister Heather Humphreys is not taking her responsibility to protect our natural heritage seriously.

An Taisce, BirdWatch Ireland, the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland and the Irish Wildlife Trust are all against the proposed changes to the Heritage Bill 2016.

BirdWatch Ireland Senior Conservation Officer, Alex Copland says:

“The Wildlife Act is a key instrument to ensure protection of birds in the wider countryside. In 2007 the European Court of Justice ruled against Ireland for, among other things, failure to protect birds in the wider countryside.

“We should be doing everything in our power to strengthen the laws that protect birds like the Curlew and Yellowhammer and not weaken them”.

Road safety

shutterstock_130182158 Source: Shutterstock/Chelle129

On the other side of this argument are landowners and farmers, who want more time to trim ditches on country roads before bad weather sets in and have expressed road safety concerns if they don’t have the time.

Under existing rules, landowners have six months between September and February to manage hedgerows and uplands effectively and there is a provision for hedge-cutting for safety on our roads through the Roads Act (1993).

The Heritage Bill 2016 debate will be continued next Wednesday, 16 November.

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