Three people were fined for out-of-season hedge-cutting in Co. Westmeath today (Friday, March 26), the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has confirmed.

The National Parks & Wildlife Service highlighted a recent successful prosecution for a breach under Section 40(1)(b) of the Wildlife Acts.

The case involved hedgerow cutting during the bird breeding season and was brought before Mullingar District Court, Co Westmeath.

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage took a successful prosecution against a landowner at Greenpark House, Ballinea, and two contractors from Newry, Co. Down and Clonaslee, Co. Laois. All three defendants pleaded guilty.

The judge in this case imposed fines of €1,500 on each defendant and also ordered each defendant to pay €635 to the state to cover legal costs.

Peter Jones, state solicitor, presented the case. Conservation Ranger Therese Kelly of the National Parks and Wildlife Service represented the minister and outlined the evidence to the court.

Ranger Kelly stated that on March 19, 2020, accompanied by her colleague Ranger Tríona Finnen, she responded to three separate reports from concerned members of the public that hedges and trees were being cut at Greenpark House.

She told the judge that while on site she observed freshly cut hedgerows with excavator tracks alongside them.

She further stated that she cautioned the contractor on site that day and while he initially denied cutting any hedges, on further inspection, Ranger Kelly saw a circular saw attachment in the back of a pick-up he was driving.

Ranger Kelly explained to the judge that the circular saw could be attached to an excavator and could be used to cut through dense vegetation including tree trunks. She showed Judge Hughes photographic evidence and said she observed many tree crowns lying on the ground beside the damaged hedgerows.

Looking at the evidence Justice Hughes asked her was it correct that 2,352m of hedgerow had been cut to which she replied that it was.

Ranger Kelly went on to say that accounted for about 93% of the internal hedgerows in the land holding. She described the damage as extensive and informed the court that wild birds in Ireland rely heavily on hedgerows for breeding as we do not have vast tracts of broadleaved woodlands.

Louis Kiernan, defence solicitor for the landowner, told the Judge that his client was part owner of the lands and she was keen to “tidy them up” for sale.

Judge Hughes remarked that while some people like to see a nice neat hedge it had to be cut at the appropriate time of the year.