The Wildlife Act 1976, amended 2000, prohibits the cutting of hedgerows in Ireland during the period of March 1st to August 31st. However, under section 40 of the Wildlife Act a number of exemptions have been made including cutting for public health and safety reasons, and trimming for farming activity.
Just yesterday, June 3rd, I came across a contractor cutting the hedges in my local area in Co. Waterford. When I asked the contractor who he had been contracted by, he said he had applied for a tender through LAQuotes.ie, an agency that tenders contracts for local authorities. The hedge cutting I witnessed yesterday had been authorised by the local authority, more than likely for health and safety reasons. The road in question is narrow and has poor visibility, so legally speaking, no law was broken.
Two weeks ago, a section of hedgerow was also completely removed from another road in Co. Waterford. Similarly, the hedgerow can also be removed if it was deemed a sufficient health and safety risk to the public. The road has a bad corner at that section, so I believe the hedgerow was again a health and safety risk. The hedgerow has been replaced with a chainlink fence! Legally speaking, in both these examples, laws have not been directly broken, due to the clause under section 40.
However, I personally take issue with hedge cutting and hedgerow removal (that should be deemed absolutely necessary in the first place) during this time period. The authorities knew earlier this year that this particular road would need cutting for health and safety issues, and the cutting of the hedge could have been planned earlier or later in the year to coincide with the law. The same stretch of road was also cut 12 months ago (during the same time period), that highlights that this is something that needs to be done annually, but could be planned during other time scales. Similarly, the removal of a dangerous bend in the road could have been planned after August. I believe the local authority should be setting examples for the public, and encouraging land owners to do the same.
Why are hedgerows important?
Ireland has relatively low levels of native forestry cover in comparison to other European countries. For instance, Ireland has about 10% forestry cover, most of this is recent commercial forestry plantations, with less than 5% containing native woodland. The reality can be seen in the graph that places Ireland as one of the least forested countries in Europe.
We are fortunate however, that we have good quality hedgerows that support a wide variety of wildlife species, from plants and insects to small mammals and birds. The Wildlife Act was written to protect wildlife species during the breeding season, when future populations are at their most vulnerable. This is particularly important for bird species; especially robins, wrens, dunnocks, thrushes, black birds and rarer birds.
This clause in the law is well known by BirdWatch Ireland, The Irish Wildlife Trust, An Taisce and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The level of environmental consideration varies between various responsible engineers, and their assessment of public safety, and overall understanding and consideration of wildlife can all vary considerably. Wexford County Council are leading the way by adopting a county policy that takes these concerns into consideration. The county council was highly commended in an Irish Times article last weekend. I hope that other county councils will follow their excellent example. But for the time being, the onus appears to be with considerate county councils, and concerned individuals, as the current legislation has too many legal loopholes.
E.J.Lindquist,, R. D’Annunzio, A. Gerrand, K. MacDicken, F. Achard, R. Beuchle, A. Brink, H.D. Eva,, & P. Mayaux, J. San-Miguel-Ayanz & H-J. Stibig (2012). Global forest land-use change 1990–2005 . Stibig. FAO Forestry Paper No. 169. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and European Commission Joint Research Centre. Rome, FAO.