The Heritage Bill 2016, under which Heather Humphreys is hoping to extend hedge-cutting and scrub-burning on a pilot basis, was debated last week in the Seanad without agreement. Senators are wary of the need for the Bill, while there have been strong objections from environmentalists and members of the public. Over 25,000 people have signed a petition and hundreds have written to Senators from around the country, calling on them to reject the Bill.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan said “it's far from a Heritage bill in terms of protection”. She called on Minister Humphreys to provide scientific data before opening up hedge-cutting in March and August. Birdwatch Ireland, An Taisce, Irish Wildlife Trust and the Hedge-laying Association of Ireland are all against the changes. They cite the failure of the Minister to consult experts on key parts of the Bill and its lack of scientific basis. They say vulnerable upland species like the endangered curlew would be affected by March burning, while other declining species like linnets and yellowhammers nest well into August and September. They say road safety, cited as a reason for the proposed extension, is covered by current legislation which allows cutting for visibility and safety.
The IFA is for the extension of the cutting and burning season. IFA environment chairman Thomas Cooney said in May: “This pragmatic measure will allow for better vegetation management while ensuring the protection of biodiversity. It is essential that no further delays occur and Minister Humphreys prioritises the progress of this measure during this Dáil term.”