The Irish Times view on tree cutting: let them stand

We urgently need a national, and science-based policy for enhancing our roadside vegetation

Tipperary County Council was criticised last month for cutting down nine mature broad-leafed trees in the town of Fethard.

Tipperary County Council was criticised last month for cutting down nine mature broad-leafed trees in the town of Fethard.

 

Aldo Leopold, the great American environmentalist, wrote in the 1940s that “the price of an ecological education is to live alone in a world of wounds”. But you don’t need much ecological education to see the wounds on many Irish rural and urban landscapes today. As the official hedge-cutting season closes in February, some private landowners and some local authorities go into a frenzy of indiscriminate destruction.

Nor will you be alone if you are distressed and angered by these assaults on the biodiversity, and the beautiful landscapes, which our green rhetoric claims to value so much. It’s evident from the recent flurry of social media comments and press reports that many citizens are shouting stop to this mismanagement of our trees and hedgerows.

We must, of course, remove trees likely to fall, putting human life at risk. We must maintain good driving visibility by trimming roadside hedgerows. Recent extreme weather events have naturally increased concerns – and no doubt insurance premiums – in this regard.

But all too often it appears that entire stands of healthy trees are removed because one of their number, old or diseased, had come down in a storm. Or that a whole individual tree is removed, when pruning could have solved the problem.

As for our hedgerows, instead of judicious trimming, they are frequently subjected to brutal crewcuts, or are hammered and torn asunder with flails. There is not much point in restricting cutting from March 1st to foster breeding wildlife, when so much damage is being done to habitat for plants, mammals, birds and insects in February. And the ministerial option to permit cutting again in August, while some birds are still nesting, under the new Heritage Act, only invites a repeat performance.

Some councils, such as South County Dublin, have exemplary tree management policies, and many landowners already manage their hedgerows well. But we urgently need a national, and science-based policy for enhancing our roadside vegetation. And then we need to implement it.

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