BY JACKIE KEOGH
WEST Cork’s Municipal District has agreed a pilot project to tackle the problem of overgrown hedgerows, but the thorny issue of a ‘closed season’ for cutting continues to cause disagreement.
After what seemed like months and years discussing the danger that poor visibility presents to motorists, Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind) said he was delighted to formally propose the new ‘Community Hedge Cutting Grant Scheme’.
Some last minute policy decisions were made: the Council has agreed to pay €50 per km; to keep each application to a minimum of 5km; and to allow landowners come together to form a group for the purposes of making the grant application. The Municipal District meeting in Clonakilty last week also approved an initial budget of €20,000 from next year’s General Municipal Allowance for the scheme.
And Municipal Officer, Justin England, even produced a prototype of the application form, which will be made available at area engineers’ offices.
Cllr Hurley admitted that the sum would not ‘go very far’, but suggested it was ‘the first step’ in tackling a problem that has been effectively ignored since the start of the economic recession.
Representatives from various farming organisation were also invited to attend the meeting to discuss the issue.
Sean Clarke of IFA Regional Development in Cork, Richard Connell, who is the chairman of West Cork IFA, and Pat Mungovan, who is a forest manager with Coillte, said they would welcome and support the new pilot scheme.
However, during the discussion Sean Clarke warned that a co-operative approach between landowners and the local authority would be in danger of suffering ‘a setback’ if farmers were prevented from cutting hedges at dangerous junctions during ‘the closed season’.
He said it was his understanding that farmers are entitled to cut hedges during the closed season when they present a danger, but Ruth O’Brien, a senior executive engineer with Cork County Council, disagreed with him.
She referred him to Section (70) of the Wildlife Act, which stipulates that farmers are not allowed to cut the hedgerows that present a danger during the closed season. She said it would be a matter for the local authority.
The closed season refers to Section 40 of the Wildlife Act, which governs burning and the cutting of hedgerows. The closed season – from March 1st to August 31st –is designed to prevent forest fires and to protect bird life and wildlife habitat during the months of growth and reproduction.
Sean Clarke and Richard Connell, as well as a number of the Council members including Cllr Paul Hayes (SF), expressed their frustration that a public consultation process in relation to changes to Section 40, as ordered by Minister Heather Humphreys last November, has yet to be finalised.
Landowners have suggested that the closed period for burning and cutting is too inflexible and that it should be amended to take account of land management issues.
‘The Council is saying it is the landowner’s responsibility to cut hedgerows but the Council can only cut during the closed season – there is a massive contradiction in that,’ said Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan (FF). ‘It should be clarified.’
Cllr Hayes suggested that the management of hedgerows would benefit from ‘a deep cut in February and a light cut in summer.’ He said it was important to be mindful of the appearance of hedgerows during the peak tourism season.
Cllr Noel O’Donovan (FG) called for a determined effort to be made to publicly promote the new pilot scheme. And Cllr Joe Carroll (FF) insisted: ‘There ‘should be no open season or closed season when it comes to safety.’