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Hurley defends Council after accusations that it ‘butchered' Sherkin Island's hedgerows

August 31st, 2017 7:11 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Sherkin Island.

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MAYOR Declan Hurley has defended Cork County Council against claims that it ‘butchered’ the hedgerows on Sherkin Island during a recent clean-up.

A visitor to the island, Margaret O’Connor from Millstreet, contacted The Southern Star with before and after photographs of the hedgerows. Margaret O’Connor said her friend – who has a chronic immune disorder – had gone out to collect Lady’s Bedstraw, Meadowsweet, Yarrow and ‘other hedgerow medicine’ before the cutting took place. She said she, like other day visitors to the island, ‘stopped to marvel at the brilliant reds and oranges and all the other colours presented along the way. ‘Bees, butterflies, hoverflies, the odd dragonfly, moths, robins, willy wagtails and other birds flew in and out of the hedges and small animals rustled underneath,’ she said in her email to The Southern Star.

While on the island, she said a man from the Council told her that people had been complaining of being ‘attacked by nettles’ and that the Council had authorised the cutting back of the hedgerows. Margaret O’Connor said visitors travel to the West Cork island to enjoy their ‘wild beauty’ and she described the cutback as ‘wanton destruction of habitat at the height of the summer season.’

A spokesperson for Cork County Council said: ‘Routine maintenance on the island, along with concerns regarding driver and pedestrian safety, was the reason for carrying out the hedge-cutting works.’ The spokesperson said the hedge-cutting works were carried out in accordance with the relevant legislation (Wildlife Act 1976 Section 40(2)(c)) and included consultation with the National Parks and Wildlife Ranger. She said: ‘The methods used were a hand-held petrol strimmer for short sections of grassy areas and a tractor-mounted hedgecutter for the more extensive work required near junctions, corners and bad bends. And the tractor-mounted cutter was also used to trim back areas where the vegetation was causing an obstruction for pedestrians.’

The spokesperson said the hedge-cutting is mainly done at junctions and bends for safety reasons. And she added: ‘Cork County Council has been proactive by writing to many landowners, reminding them of their obligations under Section 70 of the Roads Act 1993 to carry out hedge-cutting outside of the restricted period.’ Mayor Declan Hurley responded to the day-tripper’s complaint saying: ‘Cork County Council can often find itself in a no-win situation. When the work is carried out people say it is not acceptable and when it’s not carried out, they say it is unacceptable as well.’

The mayor said the laws are there to accommodate wildlife by prohibiting hedge-cutting between March 1st and August 31st. But he said there are situations when they have to be cut for safety reasons, particularly when motorists’ views are impeded. He also made the point: ‘There are two sides to a hedgerow – the inside and the outside – and while the outside of the hedge might be cut back, the inside still provides a habitat for wildlife.’

The subject of hedge-cutting is close to the mayor’s heart: two years ago, his recommendation that the Council introduce a community hedge-cutting scheme – which offers a financial incentive of €25 per kilometre – was adopted by the Council.

The scheme provides for communities to come together and engage a qualified contractor to carry out work that has been pre-approved by the County Council. The mayor said: ‘Work of this nature is not going to interfere with the natural order of things to the extent that it would endanger wildlife.’

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