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Farming organisations and conservationists on collision course over hedge-cutting

Yellowhammer — a red listed hedgerow-nesting bird under threat from hedge-cutting.

A review by The Dapartment of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht of legislation under the Wildlife Act that governs the period when hedgerows can be cut has put landowners and environmental groups on a collision course.

As it currently stands the legislation prohibits hedge cutting (with certain exceptions) between the 01 March and the 31 August to protect nesting birds and other wildlife. Landowners’ representatives are lobbying for the cutting date to be pulled back to 31 July, citing road safety as the main criteria, and arguing that all birds will have left the nest by that time.

However, Birdwatch Ireland, the country’s largest conservation charity, maintains that many hedgerow-nesting birds still have young in the nest well into August, and some, like the red-listed yellowhammer, which has already suffered alarming decline, breeding well into September.

“The current legislation permits hedges to be cut from the 01 September, at which time circa 5 per cent of yellowhammers may still have chicks in the nest,” Dr Alex Copland, Senior Conservation Officer with Birdwatch Ireland, said in his submission to the review. “In yellowhammer areas, hedgerow-cutting should not be permitted until at least mid-September.”

Dr Copland advised that without further scientific analysis legislators should adopt what he called “a precautionary approach” to hedge cutting regulations.

On the flip side of the coin the IFA’s submission argues that cutting hedges during the month of August would improve road safety during the peak tourist season, and would help address the growing issue of fly-tipping along our roads.

In a report on the the Irish Times website today, Patrick Rohan, rural affairs chairperson with the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) said the organisation was calling for substantial amendments to the Wildlife Act and stated that farmers had “jumped through every environmental hoop”, but it was clear that the length of the closed season was unnecessary.

Photo credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by Mark A C Photos via Flickr

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