Proposed changes to the rules governing hedgecutting in Ireland will be subject to conditions and restrictions, according to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys.
Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts 1976, as amended, prohibits the cutting, grubbing, burning or destruction of vegetation, with certain strict exemptions, from March 1 to 31 August during the nesting and breeding season for birds and wildlife.
The proposals allow for managed hedge cutting and burning at certain times within the existing closed period on a pilot two-year basis.
The legislation required to allow for these pilot measures has been included in the Heritage Bill 2016, which has recently been published.
However, the new measures failed to be passed into law before the Dail dissolved for the General Election.
Speaking on the issue recently and in response to opposition to the changes, the Minister said she is keenly aware that we must ensure that this should not impact adversely upon our populations of wild birds.
“For that reason, any such cutting will be subject to conditions and restrictions, which will be specified in regulations in relation to hedgerow husbandry, management or maintenance to protect fauna or flora,” she said.
The existing provisions relating to Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts are still in operation and any changes to the closed period are dependent on the passage of the Heritage Bill 2016 through the Oireachtas.
IFA Environment Chairman Harold Kingston said bringing forward the hedgecutting date by a month is very practical as it will contribute to better hedgerow management where hedges have been overgrown.
“It will also impact positively on road safety as has been highlighted by the Road Safety Authority.
“It will address farm safety concerns as the current arrangements mean that it is confined to periods when daylight has reduced.”
Harold Kingston also pointed out that the unpredictable winter weather has typically resulted in hedgecutting being reduced by a third and that the new extended period will help to address this.
While the new hedgecutting legislation has been welcomed by farm organisations, there has been vocal opposition to the plans from environment and wildlife groups.
A petition has been launched against the proposal to change the Wildlife Act to allow for the burning of vegetation in March and hedgecutting in August.
A petition called ‘No to more slash and burn’ has been created by An Taisce, Birdwatch Ireland, the Hedgelayers Association of Ireland and the Irish Wildlife Trust and, to date, has over 15,000 signatures.