A Laois man has been convicted and fined €6,000 for the destruction of hedgerow vegetation and trees containing birds’ nests, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has confirmed.

In a case held in Carlow District Court last Thursday (September 2), Brian O’Reilly, Clonagh, Hollywood, Co. Laois, pleaded guilty to five offences under the Wildlife Acts.

The offences took place on lands at Ballickmoyler, Co. Laois between May 8 and 11, 2020, the department noted.

Two of the summonses related to the destruction of 54 mature hardwood trees and 1,200m of hedgerow vegetation, two more summonses for the wilful destruction of the nests and the eggs of protected wild birds, and one summons for procuring and paying others to take part of these offenses.

The case was taken by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Housing, Local Government, and Heritage, and prosecuted by Brendan Curran of O’Doherty, Warren Solicitors.

The court heard from district conservation officer Kieran Buckley of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, who told Judge Geraldine Carty that on May 12, 2020, the NPWS arrived in Ballickmoyler to investigate a complaint that hedgerows and mature trees had been destroyed.

On the day of the investigation, they uncovered evidence that 1,200m of hedgerows, 3.5ac of vegetation and 54 mature trees had been destroyed.

Buckley told the judge that, when searching through the vegetation and trees they found the nests of blackbirds; blue-tits; song thrush; wren; hedge sparrow; chaffinch; and woodpigeon.

All of the nests were destroyed, he said.

Two of them contained the broken eggs of a chaffinch and a hedge sparrow. The court also heard that five oak, 27 ash, 20 whitethorn, one crab apple and one holly tree were cut down.

Buckley told the court that the scale of the damage was the most significant he had ever encountered in the course of his work for NPWS.

He said that broken eggs and destroyed nests underpin the reason why vegetation is protected during the bird nesting season.

In summation, the judge told O’Reilly that the court takes these offences very seriously.

His actions represented an unacceptable loss for birds during their breeding season, damaged the wider environment and did nothing to help combat climate change, the judge added.

The judge found the facts of the case proven, and convicted Brian O’Reilly on all five summons (following his guilty plea) and imposed a total fine of €6,000.

These comprised €3,000 for summons one and €3,000 for summons two, with 120 days to pay. Meanwhile, a conviction was recorded for three other summonses but these were taken into consideration.

Recognisance in the event of an appeal was fixed at €1,000 own bond and €500 cash lodgement.

Judge Carty told O’Reilly not to come before the court again, the department said.