August hedgerow cutting plans dropped
THE government has dropped plans to allow roadside hedge cutting during August this year.
The Minister for Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD announced last week that she will not now go ahead with regulations that would have allowed general roadside hedge cutting during August on a trial basis.
Under the Heritage Act 2018, Minister Madigan has the discretionary power to allow the cutting of roadside hedges during the month of August in 2019 and 2020. However, the Minister pointed out the key role hedgerows play and the importance of protecting nature.
‘While the Heritage Act made provision to allow the cutting of roadside hedges in August on a pilot basis, it’s clear from recent international and national studies including the IPBES Report, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the recent Irish Wetland Bird Survey that we need to provide greater protection to our nature and biodiversity,’ said the Minister.
‘Hedges sustain nature and from March to August they protect nesting and breeding birds and wildlife. It would be wrong and would send out all the wrong signals to extend hedge cutting further into August this year,’ she said.
Hedgerow cutting in August can impact on late-nesting bird species while the hedges are a source of food for wild bees, butterflies and other mammals. However, hedgerow cutting for road safety purposes is still permitted at all times of the year.
The Minister continued: ‘It is still open to landowners under the Roads Act 1993 to take reasonable steps to ensure that a tree, shrub, hedge or other vegetation 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. Under the terms of the Wildlife Act, roadside hedge cutting is permitted between September 1 and the end of February.’
‘I am happy that this decision strikes the correct balance between the need to protect nature on the one hand and ensure public safety on our roads on the other.’
BirdWatch Ireland, which is based in Kilcoole, has welcomed the Minister’s decision as a ‘good day for Ireland’.
‘We are delighted that Minister Madigan has seen the light when it comes to the Heritage Act and that she has shelved changes to the laws on hedge-cutting,’ said Oonagh Duggan from BirdWatch Ireland.
Research by the group on late-nesting birds identified the importance of hedgerows, with Yellowhammer in particular threatened by the changes to hedge-cutting laws which were passed in the Heritage Act. It found that there were 23 other species nesting well into August, and the latest date on which Yellowhammers were recorded as still nesting was September 24 2018.
‘The Minister spoke strongly about the need to nurture nature and biodiversity, which is very welcome. Our hedgerows are unique features of the Irish landscape and symbolise the meeting of our natural and cultural heritage. We call on the Minister to set up a Forum to deliver a National Hedgerow Conservation Strategy to ensure their long-term conservation,’ said Ms Duggan.
As part of this strategy, BirdWatch Ireland would like to see a bespoke law protecting hedgerows and guidance on the correct maintenance of them for the benefit of wildlife.
The decision was also welcomed by An Taisce, which described it as a ‘welcome reprieve’ for our precious biodiversity.