The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is reminding the public that there is just a little over one month left for hedge cutting before the closed season.
The cutting, grubbing, burning or other destruction of “vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch” is prohibited between March 1 and August 31.
The prohibition is contained in section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976. Suspected breaches are investigated by the NPWS and An Garda Síochána.
Prosecutions for cutting hedges
The NPWS took 31 section 40 prosecution cases in 2021 and it said that it hopes that fewer will be necessary this year.
In Ireland, our relatively low cover of native woodland makes our hedgerows exceptionally important for biodiversity, according to the NPWS.
The NPWS added that hedgerows provide botanical diversity as well as food and shelter for animals, most notably birds. They also act as corridors connecting habitats.
Untrimmed, thorny hedges are favoured by birds, but birds may nest in any hedge, according to the wildlife service.
The prohibition outlined above does not apply in a number of circumstances set out in the act.
For landowners, businesses and the general public the most notable of these exemptions are:
- The destruction, in the ordinary course of agriculture or forestry, of any vegetation growing on or in any hedge or ditch. In the act, “agriculture” is defined as including horticulture. Since horticulture includes gardening, the summertime trimming of hedges in the ordinary course of gardening falls under this exemption;
- The clearance of vegetation in the course of road or other construction works or in the development or preparation of sites on which any building or other structure is intended to be provided;
- The felling, cutting, lopping, trimming or removal of a tree, shrub, hedge or other vegetation pursuant to section 70 of the Roads Act 1993.
Section 70 of the Roads Act 1993 provides that “the owner or occupier of land shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that a tree, shrub, hedge or other vegetation on the land is not a hazard or potential hazard to persons using a public road, and that it does not obstruct or interfere with the safe use of a public road or the maintenance of a public road”.
The NPWS recommends that such “reasonable steps” are taken between September 1 and February 28, where possible.
It is an offence under Section 22 of the Wildlife Act 1976 to willfully destroy, injure, or mutilate the eggs or nest of a wild bird, or to willfully disturb a wild bird on, or near, a nest containing eggs or un-flown young birds at any time of the year.
Report illegal hedge cutting
The NPWS is urging anyone who suspects a hedge-cutting offence to have taken place, to report it to the local NPWS office or local garda station.
It added that since enforcement staff might not be able to respond immediately, you should take a note of the date and time, and note any vehicle registration numbers involved.
Photographs (especially of vehicle number plates) can also be helpful, but there is no need to send them to the NPWS or gardaí when reporting, the NPWS added.