The National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is reminding the public the cutting, grubbing, burning or other destruction of “vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch” between 1st March and 31st August is prohibited.
The prohibition is contained in section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976*. Suspected breaches are investigated by the NPWS and An Garda Síochána. The NPWS took 31 section 40 prosecution cases in 2021 and it hopes that fewer will be necessary this year.
In Ireland, our relatively low cover of native woodland makes our hedgerows exceptionally important for biodiversity. Hedgerows provide botanical diversity as well as food and shelter for animals, most notably birds. They also act as corridors connecting habitats. Untrimmed, thorny hedges are favoured by birds, but birds may nest in any hedge.
The prohibition outlined above does not apply (unless done by burning) in a number of circumstances set out in the Act. For businesses, landowners and the general public the most notable of these exemptions are:
The destruction, in the ordinary course of agriculture or forestry, of any vegetation growing on or in any hedge or ditch. In the Act, “agriculture” is defined as including horticulture. Since horticulture includes gardening, the summertime trimming of hedges in theordinary course of gardening falls under this exemption;
The clearance of vegetation in the course of road or other construction works or in the development or preparation of sites on which any building or other structure is intended to be provided;
The felling, cutting, lopping, trimming or removal of a tree, shrub, hedge or other vegetation pursuant to section 70 of the Roads Act 1993.
Section 70(2) (a) of the Roads Act 1993 provides that “The owner or occupier of land shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that a tree, shrub, hedge or other vegetation on the land is not a hazard or potential hazard to persons using a public road and that it does not obstruct or interfere with the safe use of a public road or the maintenance of a public road”. NPWS recommends that such “reasonable steps” are taken between 1 September and 28 February, where possible.
It should also be noted that it is an offence under Section 22 of the Wildlife Act 1976 to wilfully destroy, injure, or mutilate the eggs or nest of a wild bird or to wilfully disturb a wild bird on or near a nest containing eggs or un-flown young birds at any time of the year.
Help protect nature! If you see what you suspect to be a hedge-cutting offence you can report it to your local NPWS office (see www.npws.ie/contact-us) or your local Garda station. Since enforcement staff might not be able to respond immediately, you should take a note of the date and time, and note any vehicle registration numbers involved. Photographs (especially of vehicle number plates) can also be helpful, but there is no need to send them to the NPWS or the Gardaí when reporting.)