A Bill that aims to protect Ireland’s hedgerows is to be published by a group of lawyers on Monday, with one saying that “the protection of biodiversity” is now finding expression in our legal system and courts.
The Bill has been drawn up by the Bar of Ireland’s Natural Justice Campaign, a think-tank of lawyers and environmentalists. It is supported by the Green Party, which intends to introduce it in the Oireachtas as a Private Members’ Bill next year.
Native hedgerow corridors are seen as fundamental to the Irish landscape because of their significant contribution to biodiversity, flood control, soil protection, carbon storage, shelter, shade, animal welfare, pest control and beauty.
The fact that Ireland has the lowest level of native woodland cover in Europe places a greater importance on the role played by native hedgerows corridors.
The Protection of Hedgerows Bill 2023 introduces the concept of “significant hedgerows” and a requirement for permission to be sought by landowners for their removal.
There currently an estimated 689,000km of native Irish hedgerows, but environmentalists say these are being lost at an alarming rate. A survey by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2019 reported the annual rate of loss to be at least 0.16 per cent, or 1,100km of hedgerows.
Another study, undertaken in Co Monaghan in 2021, estimated that almost 10 per cent of the county’s hedgerows had been lost over the previous 10 years.
The Bill was drafted by members of the Bar on a pro-bono basis following a request from Hedgerows Ireland. Sara Phelan SC, chairwoman of the Council of The Bar of Ireland, said climate change was the “defining crisis of our time”. She said “the protection of biodiversity, reducing emissions and other measures are now finding expression in our legal system and courts”.
“The role of independent lawyers and the courts in interpreting these emerging policies will be important, as well as how the courts balance a myriad of rights and obligations” she said.
Green Party TD Steven Matthews, chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, said “the importance of a healthy, connected network of hedgerows is often overlooked”.
“They form important ecological corridors across our country providing shelter, food and connectivity to habitats for an array of species,” he said. “I am delighted to work with the Climate Bar to steer this important legislation through the Oireachtas.”
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