BY JACKIE KEOGH
CHANGES to the Wildlife Act are ‘a positive step,’ according to the IFA, but four environmental organisations have called on the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, to reconsider the Heritage Bill.
The IFA – which has been campaigning on this issue since changes were introduced as part of the Wildlife Amendment Act in 2000 – said farmers would welcome the proposed one-month extension for hedge cutting and the burning of gorse on a pilot basis for two years, and it has called for an early implementation date.
Under existing rules, landowners have six months between September and February to manage hedgerows and uplands, and there is also a provision for hedge cutting for safety on the roadsides, but the proposed changes to the Wildlife Act would allow for the burning of vegetation in March and the cutting of hedgerows in August.
The Irish Wildlife Trust, Birdwatch Ireland, An Taisce and the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland have called on the minister to reconsider these proposals, claiming they are detrimental and unnecessary.
They questioned the ‘fast-tracking’ of the Heritage Bill through the Oireachtas prior to the forthcoming general election and organised an online petition (https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/no-to-more-slash-and-burn), which has already attracted 13,000 signatures.
The four organisations are hoping to persuade the Government to reverse the decision before the Heritage Bill 2016 is passed through the Oireachtas and their position was supported by Labour Senator John Whelan during a discussion in the Seanad on January 20th, when it was voted 28 to six to go to a second reading.
They are challenging the Bill on the grounds of the ‘potentially serious impact on a range of already threatened wildlife species and habitats in Ireland,’ as well as offering evidence that climate change is bringing forward the dates of spring nesting of certain species.
They state that Irish hedgerows are ‘a vital refuge for many native wildlife species in a landscape with little native woodland compared to other countries’ and they request that proper hedgerow and upland management regimes be established for farming, road safety and wildlife.
But the IFA Hill Committee chairman Pat Dunne described the Bill as ‘a practical step’ – one that would be ‘a major help to farmers’ because the existing burning dates from September 1st to the end of February ‘are too narrow.’
Mr Dunne said: ‘The extension by a month is important as it will address uncontrolled wildfires, allow for better vegetative management and assist farmers in making land eligible for various EU CAP schemes.’
He said that the change of dates – while still not in line with Northern Ireland – will be important for the better management of upland areas.’ And the IFA’s environment chairman, Harold Kingston from Courtmacsherry, claimed that unpredictable winter weather has resulted in hedge cutting being reduced by a third – something that the one-month extension will address.