BirdWatch Ireland were part of a coalition of environmental groups which opposed the Wildlife Act which sought to allow for the burning of vegetation in March and the cutting of hedgerows in August.
Our hedgerows are a vital refuge for many native wildlife species in a landscape with little native woodland compared to other countries. Hedgerows provide food, shelter, nesting sites, habitat corridors and are an essential component for flood defenses, preventing soil erosion and the silting of rivers as well as carbon sequestration. Our hedgerows and upland habitats need proper management, though. Landowners and farmers must be supported to manage them in a way that works for farming, road safety and wildlife. Under existing rules, landowners have six months between September and February to manage hedgerows and uplands effectively and there is provision for hedgecutting for safety on our roads. Therefore, this decision is unwarranted, will cause a significant blow to already threatened wildlife species and goes against advice submitted by Birdwatch Ireland, An Taisce and the Irish Wildlife Trust.
The change to the hedge-cutting dates will lead to further declines in populations of Red-listed Yellowhammer, Linnet and Greenfinch birds and reduce essential food supplies for pollinators, of which a third are threatened with extinction.
Our upland breeding birds are experiencing significant declines with several species now of Conservation Concern, including the Red-listed Curlew, Golden Plover and Meadow Pipit. Breeding Curlew have experienced an almost 80% decline in the last 40 years. How sad it will be to lose the Cry of the Curlew in our lifetimes. Many of our upland habitats are of international importance and protected under the EU Habitats Directive. These habitats also provide a range of benefits to humans such as carbon sequestration, water filtration and attenuation to protect against floods. Why then is the Minister supporting any burning in the uplands given the fragile state of its wildlife and habitats? By allowing burning of our uplands into March, nesting activities of sensitive upland ground-nesting birds will be affected along with the breeding success of these populations.