Hedges: to cut or not to cut

People in rural areas have rarely seen the level of vegetation growth along roadsides as that witnessed this summer.

A combination of heat and moisture has led to a proliferation of ferns, briars, wildflowers and various trees, to the extent that some country roads are now dangerous for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

Views are obstructed, you have to edge out onto hazardous junctions and, in some byroads, there’s hardly space for one vehicle to pass, as the hedges are growing outwards by several feet.

At the same time, environmental groups such as Birdwatch Ireland, An Taisce, the Irish Wildlife Trust and the Hedge Laying Association are running a campaign against proposed changes in the Wildlife Act by Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys.

Controversial changes to Section 40 of the Act, due to come before the Oireachtas in October, would allow for gorse fires on the mountains in March and the cutting of hedgerows in August.

There’s been strong pressure from some politicians and farming organisations for changes in the law which currently allows such activity only from September to February.

Commonsense must come into play here, especially on roadside hedges.

It’s the land- owner’s responsibility to cut hedges, though local councils also act when there are obvious traffic hazards.

This summer, some roads have become so dangerous that landowners are just going out and cutting back vegetation to prevent serious accidents.

If they didn’t do that, the roads would be almost impassable.

The environmental groups have collected almost 20,000 signatures in support of their anti “slash and burn” campaign.

They argue the cutting of hedgerows, in August, would have a detrimental impact on wildlife and sustainable farming in Ireland.

They also claim there’s no scientific basis for the changes.

While agreeing that proper management of hedgerows is needed, they say landowners and farmers must be supported to manage them in a way that works for farming, road safety and wildlife.

However, people must be able to travel roads and the conflicting interests need to find a practical solution.

Lorraine Bull, of the Irish Wildlife Trust, says August is a crucial month for wildlife.

A number of wildflowers are flowering in August, providing vital food resources for our bee and butterfly pollinators.

“Birds, such as the yellowhammer, nest well into September and chicks sitting in the nest can be disturbed and killed as heavy hedge-cutting machinery fires small pieces of debris straight into the hedge at great velocity,” she says.

In 2007, the European Court of Justice ruled against Ireland for, among other things, failure to protect birds in the wider countryside.


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