A new bill, drafted on a pro-bono basis by a group of barristers, which aims to “protect hedgerows” will be launched this evening (Monday, December 4) in the Bar of Ireland.

The Protection of Hedgerows Bill 2023, was drafted by the Hedgerows Legislation Project, which is a working group of Comhshaol – The Climate Bar Association.

This is a specialist bar association which aims to “pursue practical green and environmental initiatives” and is a think-tank of environmental law and biodiversity protection experts.

Sara Phelan SC, chair of the council of The Bar of Ireland, today described climate change as the “defining crisis of our time” and said the impact of this on “current and future legislation, and litigation, will be considerable”.

The Green Party has confirmed that it intends to introduce the new bill in the Oireachtas as a private members bill next year.

(L-R) Brian Leddin, Green Party, Steven Matthews, Green Party, Leesha O’Driscoll SC, Alan Moore Hedgerows Ireland, Sara Phelan SC, Neil Foulkes Hedgerows Ireland, Cliona Kimber SC, Source: Hedgerows Ireland

Leesha O’Driscoll SC, chair of the Hedgerows Legislation Project believes the “evidence” for the protection of hedgerows is compelling.

The project has highlighted today that these native corridors are fundamental to the Irish landscape “because of their significant contribution to biodiversity, flood control, soil protection, carbon storage, shelter, shade, animal welfare, pest control and beauty”. 

O’Driscoll added: “For the purpose of this bill and in order to prepare legislation that balances the rights of landowners with the needs of our environment and wider society in a way that is proportionate, justifiable and practicably enforceable, the substantive provisions concern only significant hedgerows.

“These are hedgerows that have a significance in terms of the impact of the services they provide to ecosystems, biodiversity, agricultural systems, and contribution to the value or integrity of our archaeological, historical, heritage or cultural sites.

“If enacted, the bill will establish the principle that significant hedgerows are worth protecting and ought to therefore only be removed in specified circumstances where there is no viable alternative.”

According to Dr. Alan Moore, of Hedgerows Ireland the country has “much to gain” from protecting our native corridors.

He said in the organisation’s experience “the vast majority of landowners appreciate that”.

Dr. Moore added that a “significant and disproportionate” amount of loss and damage is associated with a small minority of landowners and some state and semi state bodies which is why it is important for protection to be “provided for in legislation, so that there can be no ambiguity.”