The debate over the prohibited period for hedgecutting is now being framed as a direct conflict between road safety and wildlife protection.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys came in for some stern questioning in the Dail recently from Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice on her plans to extend the dates on which grass cutting and hedgecutting can proceed.

Fitzmaurice said this has become a major problem since April from the point of view of road safety and access on the ‘byroads of Ireland’.

“If one travels the byroads of the country, it is horrendous to see the amount of grass and hedges that are hanging out.

“Councils, perhaps through lack of funding or whatever, did not have the required resources to deal with the issue.

“Everyone believes in making sure the nesting season is looked after, but there are health and safety issues. We cannot have grass growing on the sides of the road, which puts people’s lives at risk. It is like many things in this country; we have to use a bit of common sense and cop-on.”

He wants the Minister change the regulations to allow this to be facilitated for a longer period of time.

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Currently section 40 of the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012 prohibits the cutting, grubbing, burning or destruction of vegetation, with certain strict exemptions, from March 1 to August 31 during the nesting and breeding season for birds and wildlife.

Vegetation such as hedgerows and scrub is important as wildlife habitat and needs to be managed in the interests of farming and biodiversity. As a result, a Department review of the current legislation was initiated to ensure that it remains effective and balanced.

Last year the Minister announced a consultation process which provided that opportunity.

Following the end of the public consultation period, Minister Humphreys established a working group, comprising officials from my Department, to consider the submissions received and to report back to me with a range of proposals.

She said she expects to announce the outcome of the review in the near future.

Minister Humphreys said she fully understands the need for health and safety considerations, but councils have the authority to cut hedges where are there are health and safety issues and I would encourage them to do so.

“I live in the country and understand that when hedges are growing into the middle of the road, it is very dangerous.

“The issue is complex and many submissions have been received from farming organisations, contractors, BirdWatch Ireland and other groups.

“I met different organisations and there are diverse views. I am considering the issue and my officials are working on it.

“I am trying to find the best way to get the right balance between accommodating hedge cutting while at the same time protecting habitats,” she said.