‘Urgent’: Contractors call for extension of hedge-cutting season

The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has been called on to extend the open periods for the operation of hedge-cutting machinery on farms by a further two weeks until March 17, 2020.

This request – made by the Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors of Ireland (FCI) – comes against the background of a number of weeks when three times the normal seasonal levels of rainfall have been experienced, with only 10 days remaining for the management of hedgerows.

FCI national chairman Richard White commented on the situation, stating: “It is accepted that soils on many farms are saturated to the point of being waterlogged.

This has brought field work to a standstill – especially in areas such as time sensitive hedge management.

The FCI said it originally wrote to senior department officers in January regarding the urgent need for a decision on an extension to the hedge management dates for 2020 due to the continuing wet ground conditions and the problems that this is causing for farmers and contractors.

To date there has been no response on the hedge-cutting issue, the organisation said.

“Ground conditions in Irish fields have further deteriorated, and field conditions for work on mechanised hedge management have been at their worst over a number of years,” White added.

“Field conditions are unlikely to improve in the next week, due to anticipated additional rainfall.

“As we come to the end of the mechanised hedge management period, the need for an extension has never been more urgent,” the chairman stressed.

As ground conditions will be slow to dry out within the next week and for the remaining 10 days of the hedge management season, without a temporary extension many field hedgerows will remain unmanaged for 2020, causing field and road obstructions and leading to ongoing road and farm safety issues for all users, the association has warned.

The FCI is requesting that a temporary review of the Wildlife Acts takes the impact of such conditions during the winter months into consideration and “allows for some flexibility in line with current and predicted weather changes”.

“The current closed period deadlines are no longer practical to take account of current weather conditions and in order to allow for the safe operating of hedge management machinery when working against unrealistic deadlines,” the organisation concluded.