An Taisce has released a statement outlining the content of its submission to the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht in respect of hedge cutting and gorse burning. An Taisce said,
'Any shortening of the closed period under section 40 of the Wildlife Acts would evidently have serious adverse consequences for Ireland’s already threatened and declining biodiversity, and this should not be countenanced by government, notwithstanding pressure from industry lobby groups.'
The statement references late-nesting birds like the yellow-hammer which nests into September. The charity calls for caution with regard to burning controls as certain ground-nesting species, especially the hen harrier, also nest into September. An Taisce say that European law protects threatened species and calls for the closed season 'to cover the period February through September inclusive'.
An Taisce's submission refers to Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts 1976-2012 which aims to:
- Protect wildlife during the breeding and nesting season,
- Prevent the spread of fires (including forest fires), and to
- Protect vegetation and wildlife habitats during months of growth and reproduction
The statement argues that hedgerows are important sources of food for wildlife. Early cutting would deprive vulnerable species at a crucial time when they need to put on weight to survive winter.
In addition, An Taisce call for current exemptions during the closed season to be tightened:
'The exemptions are framed so broadly (e.g. ‘public health or safety’), and appear to be regulated so poorly, that they arguably provide almost a carte blanche for cutting during the closed period. Moreover, the exemptions are weighted so heavily in favour of human ‘development’ as to appear inappropriate in a modern piece of conservation legislation.'
The submission goes on to detail the importance of large hedgerows to wildlife and cites a study in the UK which found direct correlation between hedgerow size and wildlife abundance. The submission strongly urges against an extension of the hedge-cutting season, arguing that less frequent cutting equals more wildlife.
'The suggestion cited in the consultation paper to the effect that “landowners should have clear power to cut roadside hedges from the end of July on the basis that birds will have generally left their nests by then” is unsupported by scientific evidence, and should not be given serious consideration. The closed period has been set as the end of August since 1976. There is no possible justification and none has been given (other than anecdote) for moving this back to the end of July. Any such move would be in clear breach of the EU Birds Directive, with attendant legal implications for the State.'
In respect of burning, the statement notes that an estimated 16,000 ha of land was burnt last year. This adversely affects bird species such as Stonechat, Wren, Song Thrush, Merlin, Whinchat, Warbler, Linnet and Yellowhammer. The Merlin and the Whinchat are already on watch-lists as 'birds of conservation concern'.
Other groups have outlined concerns about the proposed extension including online activist group Sum of Us, whose petition on the subject has amassed 2500 signatures.