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'A massacre of nature': How members of the public alerted the government to out-of-season hedge cutting

A selection of complaints was released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Image: Shutterstock/ruanruanra

THE DESTRUCTION OF wild habitats, the felling of historic trees and queries about the legality of slurry spreading were among the complaints submitted to the Government about out-of-season hedge-cutting.

A selection of correspondence to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht 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.

Earlier this week, a Tipperary man was convicted of the destruction of vegetation growing in a hedge during the bird nesting season and fined €1,000.

And last month, two men were fined after being found guilty of the wilful destruction of birds’ nests and the destruction of vegetation growing in a hedge in May 2017 in Laois.

In 2018 the Department took five prosecutions under the Act for illegal hedge cutting and clearing of vegetation.

Correspondence released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act now reveals details of complaints about hedge-cutting submitted to the Department since 2017.

‘A massacre of nature’

In March this year, an individual in Louth contacted the National Parks and Wildlife Service to describe what they felt was a “massacre of nature” in one part of the country.

The individual described fresh tree cutting and hedge trimming near a school, saying that trees were “completely delimbed and annihilated” by council workers.

“I am increasingly concerned about this reckless activity… and the decision makers involved within our local council responsible for these actions are blind to the fact that destroying our shared environment is like cutting off our own limbs,” they wrote.

Another complainant contacted the Department in April to complain about hedge cutting by Cork County Council, although they did not provide specific details about the works.

Hedge cutting1 An image sent by an individual complaining about hedge-cutting out of season Source: Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Another letter from a “concerned citizen” to Dublin City Council and South Dublin County Council in April also complained about tree felling.

“I would like firstly a full explanation as to why trees are being cut during nesting season, which as you all know, is illegal,” they wrote.

“I demand that these trees be preserved.”

However, tree and vegetation clearance is permitted to be undertaken within bird nesting by councils in certain instances.

Last month, it emerged that Kildare County Council engaged in hedge cutting along the M7 in Naas, but was allowed to do so as it was part of planning permission for construction work on the road.

The Department did not clarify whether the works outlined in the complaints were permitted, and it is not known if any action has being taken against any of the local authorities.

Railway tree cutting

The selection of correspondence to the Department also contains details of multiple complaints about hedge cutting by Irish Rail workers.

In one email from March 2018, an individual complained that transport company had sought to remove a large number of trees in a north Dublin train station for health and safety purposes.

They wrote:

I can see no solid reason why they need to be removed when in years gone by they have removed numerous trees from the same car park with no rationale and it is now just an ugly eyesore on the way into the village.
They are not old trees, they are not dangerous and they provide a very good boundary between the car park and train line.

The following month, another complainant in an unknown part of the country also contacted the Department to complain about tree-felling by Irish Rail.

The individual claimed that the trees contained nesting birds and squirrels, and added that the company had also been removing hedges and trees along a nearby railway line.

“I would assume these are harbouring wildlife,” they said.

However, like local authorities, Irish Rail is permitted to fell trees and cut hedges in certain circumstances, particularly where concerns about safety arise.

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“Our policy is to ensure that we don’t do any hedgecutting from March to October during the nesting season,” Barry Kenny, the company’s Corporate Communications Manager tells TheJournal.ie.

“We do have some permissions under the Transport Railway Infrastructure Act if there is a necessity to protect the safety or operation of services.”

Kenny said the company’s policy was to do as much vegetation work during the winter months as possible, unless is was not practical or safe to do so.

He also said that the management of vegetation during the summer months was done “in exceptional circumstances only”.

Destroyed birds’ nests

Many complaints about individuals cutting hedges out of season were also sent to the Department.

In one instance last June, an individual wrote to the Department to complain after they were “horrified” at the sight of hedges being cut in Kildare, particularly as they felt the cutting was not being done for safety purposes.

“There were no foot paths, signs or bus stops where they were mowing,” the person wrote. “Hundreds of birds nests must have been destroyed and abandoned.”

In another complaint last July, an individual complained about their next door neighbour, who it was claimed cut a hedge 80 feet in length.

Hedge cutting2 One image sent to the Department regarding a hedge-cutting complaint Source: Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

One complainant in Cork also contacted the Department in April, when they alleged that a local farmer had been cutting hedges and burning vegetation for eight weeks.

“Myself and my family walk the road… every single day [when] we watch the wild hare, hedgehogs and enjoy watching the tadpoles emerging,” they wrote.

“The hares are now gone, the hedgehogs are gone and the tadpoles ponds completely destroyed… surely there is someone that can uphold some law and find this practice unlawful.”

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

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