Government may have to dilute controversial hedge-cutting Bill

Fianna Fáil amendment will still allow cutting during August but only on roadways

The Heritage Bill proposes to allow the cutting of hedgerows from August 1st each year, rather than from September 1st. Photograph by Frank Miller

The Heritage Bill proposes to allow the cutting of hedgerows from August 1st each year, rather than from September 1st. Photograph by Frank Miller

 

The Government may have to dilute its controversial legislation to bring forward the start of the hedge-cutting season to August on foot of an amendment from Fianna Fáil.

The Heritage Bill proposes to allow the cutting of hedgerows from August 1st each year, rather than from September 1st. It also extends the winter period during which upland habitats could be burned until March 31st.

The Bill, sponsored by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys, was debated in the Seanad earlier this month when it was strongly criticised by Opposition Senators, and also by wildlife and conservation groups who campaigned outside the Dáil.

It allowed the cutting and grubbing (removing from the roots) of all hedgerows during August. This would not have been confined to hedgerows near roads but to all hedgerows surrounding fields.

The Government argued this would be a pilot project, but it was challenged by Opposition Senators including Labour’s Kevin Humphreys, Grace O’Sullivan of the Greens, and Independents David Norris and Alice Mary Higgins. Mr Humphreys said few pilot programmes covered all 26 counties and lasted for two years.

The Fianna Fáil proposal will still allow cutting during August but only on roadways and not on “internal hedgerows”.

The party’s spokesman, Éamon Ó Cuív, said that instead of a potential eight cuttings of a hedge surrounding a field, with all four sides cut on the inside and outside, the amendment would result in only one cutting.

“This will establish a general right to cut hedges on roadways in August but we do not envisage it being a widespread practice.”

Upland burning

On the question of burning on hills and uplands, Fianna Fáil is offering no amendment. “Is there a big argument against it in the community? I don’t think so,” said Mr Ó Cuív.

If the Government accepts the Fianna Fáil amendment, it is likely to be passed but it remains to be seen whether the compromise will satisfy other parties and conservation groups.

Beekeepers and the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) have warned that the original proposal would have serious consequences for biodiversity in the State.

“Some species of birds will still be nesting in August and could by physically destroyed by the cutting,” Kieran Flood of the IWT said.

“The cutting would also be detrimental in August to other birds, bats and bees who are still using the hedgerows for their wildflowers and fruit. The other damage would be the removal of a food source from species that are already in decline.”

Birdwatch Ireland said certain species such as the yellowhammer, which is “red-listed”, would still have chicks in their nests in hedgerows at that time of year.

The Bill is scheduled to return for debate in the Seanad later this month.