A farmer who uprooted 200m of hedgerow to turn two fields into one got away with an “act of ecocide” because there are not enough rangers to enforce habitat protection laws, a Green Party TD has said.
Marc Ó Cathasaigh said a shortage of conservation rangers in the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is resulting in damage to the biosphere that cannot be undone. He said “speed and boots on the ground are vitally important” when offences are reported so that action can be taken before it is too late.
The Waterford TD highlighted a case in the west of the county where he claimed a farmer committed the “act of ecocide” by completely uprooting 200m of hedgerow.
He said it was an “egregious act” that destroyed a protected habitat for mid-size mammals including foxes and badgers.
Mr Ó Cathasaigh said it would also have affected nesting birds as well as rats and mice.
“They’re not glamorous but they are a foundation of the ecosystem,” he said. “The speed of reaction is so important because once the tree is cut down, the nest is lost or the hedge is grubbed out, that’s it.”
He said a vacant conservation ranger post in west Waterford has been unfilled for a long time and the local authority is overstretched.
“So by the time there was an official State reaction, the damage was done and it could not be undone or unpicked.”
The State is recruiting 60 conservation rangers, 50 new posts and 10 positions to replace staff who have retired.
Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said 20 have been hired and are being assigned to regional locations including Waterford. Mr Noonan has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris as preparations continue for the long-promised wildlife crime unit.
Mr Noonan said the unit would be in place by the end of the year and will tackle illegal hunting and habitat destruction.
Birds and animals
Under the memorandum of understanding, gardaí and the wildlife service will engage in joint training and improved co-operation as wildlife crime becomes a growing concern with the killing of protected birds and animals including deer, badgers and hares.
Mr Noonan said the head of the crime unit had been appointed and was currently recruiting staff.
There would be a “much more strategic approach to tackling wildlife crime in the preservation of crime scenes and in preparing books of evidence”, he said.
Mr Ó Cathasaigh welcomed the move, which he said was a sign that wildlife crime was being taken seriously, but stressed that the conservation ranger jobs had to be “sustainable and good jobs”.
He said their terms and conditions need to be such “that we are paying qualified people at a rate that it will make sense for them to continue that on and to take the conservation of our wildlife and natural world very seriously as a career choice into the future”.