An Taisce seek Scientific Reasoning behind Heritage Bill

12th July 2018
Press Release

The Heritage Bill completed its passage through the Oireachtas last night, despite widespread opposition from environmental groups, opposition parties, and concerned citizens and farmers working together with biodiversity.

The Heritage Bill will allow for a relaxation of the dates of the closed period for the burning of vegetation and ‘the cutting, grubbing, removal and otherwise destroying of hedgerows’ contained in Section 40 of the Wildlife Act (1976 and amended 2000)[Note 1] The legislation will allow burning of our upland and lowland hills in March, extending the open period for burning by one month, and for the cutting of roadside hedgerows in August [Note2].

Road safety was cited as the reason for the extended hedge-cutting season, but hedgerow cutting for road safety reasons is already allowed for at any time of the year under the Wildlife Act [Note 3], and allowing landowners to self-define road safety issues may result in a free for all for hedgerow cutting, which will be detrimental for late-nesting birds, such as the endangered Yellowhammer, and for threatened pollinators who depend on hedges for food. Illegal hedgerow cutting is already poorly enforced under the Wildlife Act, and allowing for August cutting will just further exacerbate this situation.

The prevention of wildfires was given as justification to allow for burning of scrub in March, but this does not stand up to scrutiny. In Northern Ireland burning is allowed up to mid-April, and this has not prevented out of control fires raging across the country [Note 4], causing huge environmental and economic damage. Burning in March could be detrimental for early nesting birds such as the Curlew and the Hen Harrier, which should be strictly protected under European Law [Note 5], and for our essential pollinators, which are under ever increasing environmental pressure [Note 6].

The Minister failed to meet with environmental NGOs to discuss the detrimental impact of this Bill on wildlife and the potential solutions, instead bowing to pressure from the large farming lobby and other vested interests. She has hailed the passing of the Bill as an important step to ensure better management of hedges and vegetation in rural Ireland, while downplaying the impact the Bill would have on our wildlife. An Taisce is calling on the Minister to provide her scientific support for her statements.

The Bill proposes an ill-conceived ‘pilot’ period, with the provision of a review and potential continuation by Oireachtas approval after this. This pilot has no scientific basis, and no baseline research has been done to determine bird nesting times prior to the implementation of the legislation. The minister has also failed to provide the scientific data which underpins the assertion that the changes to the Wildlife Act will not impact on birds or other wildlife, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

This Bill may be the death knell for some of our most endangered species, and will do untold damage to our vulnerable wildlife, at a time when they need ever more protection. Politics has triumphed over nature, and the future of our precious Irish wildlife is far from bright.

An Taisce Natural Environment Officer, Dr. Elaine McGoff, said:

“This Bill will be disastrous for the wildlife of our uplands and hedgerows, and comes at a time when wildlife is in trouble across the globe. The Irish Government should be leading the way in protecting our wildlife, but instead have chosen to take a huge leap in the wrong direction.”

She continued:

“The basic research data to support this Bill is conspicuously absent. The passing of this Bill is very obviously based on the views of the large farming lobby, and nothing to do with fundamental science.”

Dr. Elaine McGoff concluded:

“People depend on wildlife for a number of reasons, more than most people realise, including the production of the food we eat, and the negative impact of this Bill will be felt by us all”

For further information, contact:
Dr. Elaine McGoff, An Taisce Natural Environment Officer: +353 1 707 7063
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
www.antaisce.org

Notes

The Heritage Bill
Under Section 40 Wildlife Act vegetation on uncultivated land and any vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch is protected during the period March to August, inclusive. The Heritage Bill (2016) proposes to make changes to S40 to permit, under Regulation, “the cutting of vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch on the roadside” during August and the “burning of vegetation” in March.

  1. The proposed changes are included in sections 7 and 8 of the Heritage Bill
  2. Under Section 40 Wildlife (Amendment) Act (2000) vegetation on uncultivated land and any vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch is protected during the period March to August, inclusive.
  3. Section 46 of Wildlife (Amendment) Act (2000) allows that the closed period shall not apply to the cutting, grubbing or destroying of vegetation in the course of any works being duly carried out for reasons of public health or safety by a Minister of the Government or a body established or regulated by or under a statute;
  4. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/number-of-gorse-fires-in-northern-ireland-reaches-600-37082214.html
  5. Article 5 of the Birds Directive which requires member states to provide for the protection of birds, including during the period of breeding and rearing of chicks. The proposed changes to the Wildlife Act must comply with the relevant articles of the both the Birds and Habitats Directives. The setting of fires within within Natura 2000 sites at any time of the year also requires compliance with Article 6 of the Habitats Directive.
  6. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/a-third-of-all-bee-species-in-ireland-could-be-extinct-by-2030-1.3543104

About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.