A DISTRICT Court judge expressed surprise at what he termed the ‘lamentable ignorance’ of a Clonakilty landowner in relation to the provisions of the Wildlife Act in so far as it regulates scrub clearance during the bird nesting season.
Landowner Michael Dullea of Coorleigh North, Clonakilty was charged under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act for the clearance of two hectares of vegetation on uncultivated land in July 2020.
Mr Dullea said the lands at Coorleigh North were recently purchased by him and that he was reclaiming the land to put it into grass production. The Wildlife Act prohibits the destruction of vegetation between the dates of March 1st and August 31st in any year on land which is not then under cultivation, except where an exemption applies.
The case arose out of an investigation by the area conservation ranger of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The area cleared measured over two hectares and consisted of a well-developed scrub and tree habitat, with patches of wetter lands with willow and alder. The court heard it was an ideal habitat for a number of bird species for nesting and foraging for food for their young at that particular time of the year.
Mr Dullea, in his evidence to the court, said that while he was aware of restrictions on destroying vegetation in relation to hedgerows, he was not aware that his land reclamation works in the scrub area were prohibited.
The NPWS conservation ranger gave evidence that the landowner was very co-operative during the investigation and agreed to halt the works until the legally appropriate time for their completion.
The landowner told Judge James McNulty that he intended to write an article outlining his experience after the court case with a view to highlighting the need for a greater awareness amongst landowners of the provisions of the Wildlife Act and the consequences of contravening the legislation.
Judge McNulty said that a farmer of Mr Dullea’s experience and calibre had no excuse for the ‘lamentable ignorance’ displayed in his claim that he was unaware of the legislation in relation to this offence, given the widespread publicity in relation to the prohibitions that apply to habitat destruction in the bird nesting season. The landowner agreed to the judge’s direction to make a donation of €1,000 to the court poor box. Judge McNulty gave him the benefit of the Probation Act in the light of his co-operation with the investigating officials and his undertaking in relation to writing the article.