Clonakilty District Court Judge James McNulty expressed surprise at what he termed the “lamentable ignorance” of a Clonakilty landowner in relation to the provisions of the Wildlife Act, in so far as it regulates scrub clearance during the bird nesting season.

According to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the landowner in question, Michael Dullea of Coorleigh North, Clonakillty, Co. Cork, was charged under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act for the clearance of 2ha of vegetation on uncultivated land in July 2020.

Dullea said the lands were recently purchased by him and that he was reclaiming the land to put it into grass production.

The Wildlife Act prohibits the destruction of vegetation between the dates of March 1 and August 31, in any year, on land which is not then under cultivation, except where an exemption applies.

NPWS case

The case arose out of an investigation by the area conservation ranger of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and was taken on behalf of the Minister for Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, who is responsible for the enforcement of the Wildlife Acts.

The case was prosecuted by barrister, Shane O’Callaghan and Aidan Judge, state solicitor of Newcastlewest, Co. Limerick.

The area cleared measured over 2ha and consisted of a well-developed scrub and tree habitat, with patches of wetter lands with willow and alder.

The court heard it was an ideal habitat for a number of bird species for nesting and foraging for food for their young at that particular time of the year.

‘Unaware’ of scrub restrictions

In his evidence to the court, Michael Dullea said that while he was aware of restrictions on destroying vegetation in relation to hedgerows, he was not aware that his land reclamation work in the scrub area was prohibited.

The NPWS conservation ranger gave evidence that the landowner was very cooperative during the investigation and agreed to halt the works until the legally appropriate time for their completion.

Judge McNulty said that a farmer of Dullea’s experience and calibre had no excuse for the “lamentable ignorance” displayed in his claim that he was unaware of the legislation in relation to this offence.

The landowner agreed to the judge’s direction to make a donation of €1,000 to the court poor box. 

Judge McNulty gave him the benefit of the Probation Act in the light of his cooperation with the investigating officials.

This is one of six successfully prosecuted cases in the courts of the southwest region this year in relation to the Wildlife Act, with several further cases due for hearing shortly.