The destruction of hedgerows

 

Sir, – Today the Heritage Bill will be debated in Seanad Éireann. Introduced by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys, the Bill proposes to permit “the cutting, grubbing and otherwise destroying” of hedgerows in August each year and burning in the uplands during the month of March.

August is a time when our hedgerows are full of berries and other foods that birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife depend on. Of critical importance is that several threatened bird species, such as the yellowhammer, which nests in hedgerows, still have chicks in their nests at this time. During the month of March, upland-nesting birds like the curlew, which is on the brink of extinction, are beginning to court mates and establish nesting sites. Existing legislation prohibits hedge-cutting and burning between March 1st and August 31st annually, specifically to protect breeding birds. This prohibition period is fair to all concerned as farmers and landowners are allowed the intervening period of six months to undertake their hedge-cutting and burning activities. The extension by an extra month of the permitted period for both these activities would have an extremely negative impact on our farmland bird populations and bee populations which are already in serious decline.

Although Ms Humphreys has publicly stated that her proposed changes will be a “pilot”, the proposed legislation indicates otherwise as this “pilot” applies to every county in Ireland and can be rolled over indefinitely by a resolution of each House of the Oireachtas. In addition, no baseline data is required before these changes are made. BirdWatch Ireland has presented the best available data to the Minister on bird breeding times but the science is being ignored. Ms Humphreys has also claimed the proposed change to allow hedge-cutting in August will improve road safety, but this does not stack up. Existing legislation already fully allows for the cutting of roadside hedgerows for road safety concerns at any time of year. The proposed legislative changes in the Heritage Bill will make no difference to road safety in this regard.

Over 26,000 people to date have signed a petition saying No to the Heritage Bill and are standing up for Ireland’s biodiversity. We cannot keep calling Ireland’s agriculture and tourism green and untouched on the one hand and on the other hand weaken those very laws that protect wildlife and habitats. Today we call on all Senators and TDs to oppose this flawed Bill and safeguard Ireland’s precious heritage for generations to come. – Yours, etc,

DECLAN O’SULLIVAN,

Interim Chief Executive,

BirdWatch Ireland;

GERRY RYAN,

President of the Federation

of Irish Beekeepers’

Associations;

DECLAN MURPHY,

Chairman, An Taisce;

DAVID McCORMICK,

Chairman,

Irish Wildlife Trust;

NEIL FOULKES,

Chairman,

Hedgelaying Association

of Ireland.