Following the controversial passage of the Heritage Bill in June 2018 which reduced restrictions on cutting hedgerows, you can now read the briefings and reports that preceded the decision.
The new bill allows the Minister for Heritage the authority to allow ‘controlled burning’ (a method of land management) a month later in Spring (up to March 31st) and hedge-cutting a month earlier in Autumn (from Augst 1st) under certain circumstances.
Previous to the Heritage Bill, Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012 stipulated that it was an offence to cut, grub or burn or otherwise destroy any vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch from March 1st to August 31st.
Protecting Wildlife Habitats
Birds like Wrens, dunnocks, robins, thrushes and rarer species depend on hedgegrows for their habitats. Under the EU Birds Directive, member states are required to preserve such habitats.
Previous studies have found that 28% of Ireland’s breeding bird species and 31% of habitats are currently in decline with the European Court of Justice stating in a judgement that “(evidence suggests) Ireland is not making endeavours (to avoid deterioration of habitats) or is not doing so to an adequate degree.”
However some landowners claimed the restricted period was too inflexible for handling regular land management issues such as vegetation overgrowth blocking motorists views on roads, inhibiting crop farming, the aesthetics impact of hedge overgrowth and the time period prior to March being too wet to allow for ‘controlled burning’.
It was requested that in order to allow for flexibility regulation relating to the closed period would be set through Ministerial Regulations rather than in the main act.
Working Groups Review
A working group set up to review the Wildlife Act in 2015 received 188 submissions in relation to ammending the act, 32 of which asked for changes based on road safety concerns, 25 suggested a smaller period ban for burning while some called for an outright ban on burning altogether with the danger of wildfires stemming from this method noted in the report.
Following the submissions the working group published a proposal that suggested not curtailing the closed period defined in the Act but adding amendments exempting certain situations landowners had raised ie, it would be exempt in the case of the removal of vegetation from a road or construction works or in destroying noxious weeds.
Of particular focus was curtailing the risk to road safety posed by hedge overgrowth with the report concluding “Balancing the obligations on nature protection with road safety and the consequent risk to human life suggests that Section 40 could be ammended to reflect the spirit of the Roads Act and introduce clarity to the situation.”
The review suggested a two year pilot period for such provisions, followed by an impact assessment in 2018.
You can read the review in full below:
This is a request under the AIE Regulations to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht concerning:
All assessments, studies, advices, briefings or reports of whatever nature generated by NPWS concerning
the impact on wildlife of the Heritage Bill which provides for reducing the period in which hedges may not be
cut and vegetation may not be burnt. The request specifically includes any such information generated by
the scientific unit
Right to Know is currently seeking an internal review of the refused records listed above.