The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine “recognises” the importance of hedgerows and woodland habitats and their roles in biodiversity, agricultural management and potential carbon sequestration.

Hedgerows are an important feature of the Irish landscape with a network estimated in excess of 300,000km, providing multiple benefits such as: distinctive character; importance for wildlife; barrier and shelter for livestock; and act as important carbon stores.

This is according to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, who was responding to a question put to him by Fine Gael’s deputy Peter Burke during Dáil proceedings last week.

Burke asked the minister if a payment for maintaining hedgerows will be included in the next round of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) negotiations.

Valuable landscape features

Minister Creed pointed out that hedgerows were recognised “as valuable landscape features” under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and were, therefore, eligible for BPS payments.

It is also recognised that such features must be appropriately managed and maintained.

He continued: “This includes appropriate trimming to keep them in optimum condition – both as field boundary features and to help maintain the optimum structure and thickness to encourage bird nesting, etc – and best practice prevails where this is done as part of an appropriate cutting rotation.

“Their importance is further recognised through the inclusion of a number of hedgerow-specific actions within the GLAS [Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme].

“In addition, farmers in GLAS can select the action of copping of hedges and/or laying of hedges which seek to improve the biodiversity value of escaped or abandoned hedges.”

New regulations

Minister Creed, meanwhile, went on to say that the restriction on cutting hedgerows set out in Section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976 as amended by the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Heritage Act 2018 falls under the remit of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

As regards the new regulations for the CAP 2021-27 the proposals, as drafted, involve significant changes.

He added: “These changes include governance; the distribution of direct payments among farmers; and the increasing environmental conditionality attaching to such payments.

“Negotiations on the draft proposals are continuing at EU level. While significant progress has been made to date, decisions on key issues have yet to be agreed at EU level.”