An extension of hedge cutting and vegetation burning dates was pushed for by the president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) in a presentation on the Heritage Bill to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht yesterday (Wednesday, December 6).

Speaking after the meeting, ICSA president Patrick Kent said: “We believe that being able to control vegetation on the hills needs the added flexibility of the month of March and likewise we believe that flexibility around hedge cutting in August is essential.”

Commenting on the issue of burning, Kent said: “The reality is that burning in the winter months is seldom feasible and that short days and weather patterns mean that February rarely works.

It must be understood that the land we are talking about is not usually suitable for topping or other types of mechanical control. If we are really interested in wildlife, the best outcome in the long term is achieved by livestock grazing in an extensive manner.

“It is also important to note that there is a code of practice around controlled burning which the ICSA fully advocates,” the president added.

On the issue of hedge cutting, Kent said: “In practice, farmers are trying to get it all done in three months from September to early December.

“However, as we have seen this year, a lot of that period is beset with heavy rainfall and poor ground conditions. Moreover neatly-trimmed hedges are a critical piece of road safety infrastructure.

“The ICSA believes that roadside hedges in particular should be dealt with in August. If we could at least get the roadside hedge cutting out of the way in August, it makes it more feasible to get the internal hedges done in September and October,” Kent stressed.

It must also be noted that in GLAS some 7,500 farmers have planted 1,200km of new hedgerows and another 3,300km has been rejuvenated by coppicing and hedge laying.

“This demonstrates that farmers are keen to maintain diverse landscapes where relatively small fields are divided by hedges. But if we make the maintenance of hedges too challenging by unduly harsh limitations on hedge cutting, then we are creating a perverse disincentive to any more hedgerow planting and a more bland, open countryside fenced only by wire,” the president concluded.

According to the ICSA, the organisation strongly commended the bill to the committee insisting we have to be pragmatic about the problems that are impacting severely on farmers and on road users right now.