March 3rd 2017
Protesters dressed as bees, foxes and even an Angry Bird, made their presence felt outside the Oireachtas this week as the controversial Heritage Bill came back up for debate.
The Heritage Bill being put forward by Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys will allow hedge cutting to take place during the breeding season.
Section 8 of the proposed bill would allow for the burning of vegetation in March and hedge cutting in August. Currently, these activities are banned for a six month period each year, from March 1st until August 31st. This allows wildlife to nest and breed.
Minister Humphreys claimed that, “there have been repeated calls for this closed period to be amended and, under the proposal, managed hedge-cutting would be allowed in August and controlled burning in March, under strict criteria”
Her rationale for the bill has been heavily questioned and criticised by environmental organisations, politicians and businesses.
All were quick to point out that the bill had absolutely nothing to do with road safety. There is already legislation in place allowing for hedge cutting all year round if overgrown hedges become a hazard.
An open letter in the Irish Times on Thursday highlighted their issues with Ms. Humphreys’ proposed legislation. They feel that she is not basing her decision on available data or science.
“Science is being ignored. Ms Humphreys has also claimed the proposed change to allow hedge cutting in August will improve road safety, but this does not stack up. Existing legislation already allows for the cutting of roadside hedgerows for road safety concerns at any time of year.”
An Taisce, Irish Wildlife Trust, Birdwatch Ireland and Hedge layers of Ireland have received over 26,000 signatures for their petition calling on the minister to rethink the bill. They feel will lead to the widespread slashing and burning of hedgerows and vegetation.
The effects of this on Ireland’s wildlife could be catastrophic. Birdwatch Ireland gave the curlew situation as an example. There are only 125 curlew left in Ireland. “They begin seeking nests and breeding territories in March and they will not breed if the vegetation is burned. “This change in the rules would be the last straw for curlews. There would be too few left and they would die out,” The Yellowhammer would further threats also.
Irish Wildlife Trust’s, Kieran Flood sees the Bill as being “extremely damaging to Ireland’s wildlife”, in particular to species already at risk.
Speaking ahead of the protest, Senator Alice-Mary Higgins said the plan “is not backed up by any research or scientific data”
Labour Senator, Kevin Humphreys and Minister of State and the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Michael Ring debated the 2016 Heritage Bill and its likely impact on wildlife and bee populations.
Mr. Ring claimed the bill was “needed on the roads” seeming to overlook the fact that the road safety act already deals with dangerous overgrowth on roadsides. Mr Humphreys rebutted his argument, pointing out “she’s asking for all hedges to be cut internally which happens nowhere else in Europe” and that “Mr. Ring was Ill-informed.”
Mr Humphreys asked for the bill to be amended so that it only dealt with hedges along roadside but Mr Ring sidestepped the proposition, declaring his confidence in Heather Humphreys and her bill.
Instead, Mr. Ring accused people from urban areas of not understanding the need for the bill. That accusation doesn’t seem to hold much water with many however, given that so many people from rural Ireland travelled to Dail Eireann to protest against the move. Groups and communities from Roscommon and Dundrum, Tipperary were vocal in their opposition to the bill.
Gerry Ryan from Irish Federation of Beekeepers called for more support from farmers and custodians of land believing that, “in ten years’ time, we’ll be paying people to undo the damage caused by this bill.”
“Ireland’s hedgerows are a vital source of pollen and permitting a blanket cutting of hedgerows in August will greatly endanger the bee population” he said.
Environmental organisations, politicians and communities vowed to keep pressure on the Government to stop the bill from passing.