Passage of the Heritage Bill marked ‘a dark day for Irish biodiversity’

The passage of the Heritage Bill through the Dail this week marked “a dark day for Irish biodiversity”, Ireland’s leading environmental coalition, Environmental Pillar, has said.

On Tuesday, July 4, the bill passed the final stage in Dail Eireann and it will now return to the Seanad.

Landowners have been reminded that the existing regulations – which prohibit hedge-cutting until the start of September – remain in place, except for road safety concerns identified by authorised bodies.

What Changes Are Included In The Bill?

The changes that are included in the Heritage Bill – which are to be introduced on a pilot two-year basis – will allow for a more managed approach to the vegetation management issues which regularly arise, a spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht previously explained.

The pilot measures include the managed hedge-cutting in respect of roadside hedges only; this will be allowed, under strict criteria, during August to help ensure issues such as overgrown hedges impacting on roads can be tackled.

This provision can only relate to the side of a hedge that faces onto a road.

As it stands, hedge-cutting and gorse burning are prohibited between March 1 and August 31.

The provision also allows for controlled burning in certain areas around the country – to be specified by regulation – during the month of March, should it be necessary (for example) due to adverse weather conditions.

These two measures are designed to introduce a limited amount of flexibility to help with land management, which is of particular concern to rural dwellers, the department spokesperson previously added.

‘Destruction’

In a statement, the Environmental Pillar said that if the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, had “spent more time listening to conservation organisations instead of the large farming lobby”, then she would see that the bill “will do nothing but bring destruction to our uplands and hedgerows”.

Continuing, the statement added: “The burning of vegetation in March – which is currently prohibited – would critically endanger birds that are just starting to breed and will also impact bees that depend on gorse as a food source.

While the provisions of the bill for roadside hedge-cutting in August still require clarification; as it stands, landowners will be allowed to self-define road safety issues as they deem fit.

“This will result in severe consequences for late-nesting birds, such as the endangered yellowhammer, and pollinators who depend on hedgerows for food.”

Despite the minister stating that the bill will only allow hedges which face roads to be cut – and that a maximum of one year’s growth can be cut back – the environmental coalition argues that the “technical aspects of the bill will be lost on the general public”.

The statement added: “Our hopes now rest with the Seanad and the Irish public to come out and rally against this bill to stop it entering into law, which would only enhance our reputation as the laggard of Europe in protecting the natural world.”

‘Immediate implementation’

Following the news that the Heritage Bill had passed the final stage in the Dail, the chairman of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) National Hill Farming Committee, Flor McCarthy, said that an early conclusion is now necessary with “immediate implementation”.

He commended the efforts of Minister Madigan – as well as her predecessor, the current Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys – on the bill.

Concluding, McCarthy explained that hill farmers need burning to be allowed during the month of March – as this will lead to a better management of hill land and avoid abandonment.