Heritage Bill, wildlife and hare coursing

 

Sir, – The Heritage Bill passed in the Dáil this week, which will allow the burning of uplands in March and the cutting of hedgerows in August is yet another ill-conceived attack on Ireland’s precious wildlife heritage. Burning of vegetation in March (currently not allowed) would pose a severe danger to breeding birds and deprive bees of gorse, a vital food resource.

Hedge-cutting in August will wreak havoc on late-nesting birds, including the much loved and endangered yellowhammer, as well as pollinators heavily dependent on hedgerows for survival. A third of all bee species in Ireland are predicted to be extinct by 2030. The Heritage Bill could bring forward that date considerably. Only 125 pairs of breeding curlews remain in Ireland.

If the Bill is implemented fully these could soon be consigned to the annals of extinct species in our countryside. These proposals call to mind a scene out of Dante’s Inferno. They are unconscionable. The Bill will turn large swathes of rural Ireland into an open grave for wildlife. Birds and animals seeking food or refuge in our hedgerows face being burned alive or cut to pieces by electric trimmers.

Then again, should we be surprised that Fine Gael, backed by Fianna Fáil, could contemplate such a calculated assault on our already over-stressed biodiversity and ravaged wildlife? These same parties have for long facilitated the savagery of hare coursing, which involves snatching up to 10,000 hares per year for use as live bait in contrived races. They condone and permit this blood sport despite knowing that the Irish hare is under threat from urbanisation and loss of habitat and the well-proven cruelty of the practice as borne out by video footage of coursing fixtures and reports filed by State wildlife rangers exposing stress and injuries caused to hares. The animals are terrorised, battered and mauled by the dogs, frequently in the presence of the very politicians who say they cannot find fault with coursing. In the course of the Dáil debate on the Heritage Bill, a TD who supports the legislation joked that nesting birds in hedges should be sensible and find somewhere else to nest. Given the record of our politicians on these issues, perhaps that may prove to be the only hope for our persecuted wildlife. Unless the Bill can be blocked or amended in the Seanad, the bees might be well advised to take flight and head north of the Border, as should the Yellowhammers and the handful of curlews nesting in the Republic. Our hares could benefit too from crossing the frontier, because coursing is illegal in Northern Ireland. It may have been a trouble spot in the past, but now it has become beacon of hope for our furred and feathered friends. Up there they could nest in peace. – Yours, etc,

JOHN FITZGERALD,

Callan, Co Kilkenny.