The closed dates for burning and vegetation cutting (1 March to 31 August) are based in a generic way on what the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht calls the generally recognised nesting and breeding period for wild birds. 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.

Indeed, there is a strong case based on the precautionary principle for an extension in the closed period to protect early nesting/breeding species and the nest building period, not least against the backdrop of climate change and phenological changes. At the other end of the closed period it is clear that many farmland bird species in Ireland nest well into August and certain (namely the Yellowhammer) into September.

Likewise in the case of burning controls in respect of ground-nesting birds, the hen harrier nests well into September. In the absence of detailed phenological data for Ireland, An Taisce would support applying the precautionary principle (one of the core principles of EU environmental law, enshrined in the Treaty) such that the closed period is extended at both ends of the current closed period, to cover the period February through September inclusive. In addition to protecting birds and other wildlife during the breeding season, this would have the beneficial effect of protecting valuable food resources for wildlife, since vegetation can be laden with berries and other food well into September.

In addition, An Taisce would support a review of the manifold exemptions which apply in respect of the closed period under the Wildlife Acts, as well as the manner in which these are applied. The exemptions are framed so broadly, and appear to be regulated so poorly, that they arguably provide almost a carte blanche for cutting during the closed period.

Download the submission here.