Birdwatch Ireland calls on Minister McConalogue to stop withdrawal of… – Donegal Daily

BirdWatch Ireland has called on Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue to stop allowing the removal of hedgerows on farmland.

The wildlife body says such a removal poses a major threat to a range of bird species, including red-listed species Barn Owl, Kestrel and Yellowhammer and that it has no legal basis.

In addition, the group is calling on the government to allocate sufficient funds to ensure that farmers receive ecological advice for managing hedgerows and other habitats as part of the Ecoscheme Space for Nature.

The Ministry of Agriculture currently allows the removal of up to 500 meters of hedge on each farm outside the bird breeding season without any supervision, provided the same length of hedge is planted elsewhere beforehand.

This is despite the legal obligation under the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) 7 of the CAP Regulation for every farmer receiving a direct payment from the CAP to retain landscape features such as hedgerows [1]. There is no wording in the CAP regulations that allows for the removal of items and then replanting elsewhere, which the Department of Agriculture currently allows.

The Irish CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 proposes to continue this practice but will require that if hedgerows are removed, twice the length of the hedge must be planted within 10km of the location of removal. More than €3.6 billion will be paid to farmers in the form of direct CAP payments between 2023 and 2027. It is essential that the environmental conditions of this substantial public funding are respected, and the government should not facilitate the poor implementation of these conditions and the loss of biodiversity.

There is no ecological equivalence between removing an older hedge and replanting with young whips that can be as thin as a finger. Hedges take years to mature and develop their layers of trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses. Often, new hedges are also planted with just one or two species, such as Whitethorn and Blackthorn, while older hedges are often made up of several species of trees and shrubs which support much more diverse wildlife. Hedge removal eliminates an established component of the local ecology and results in habitat fragmentation and consequent local impacts on birds, insects and other wildlife.

Oonagh Duggan, Advocacy Manager at BirdWatch Ireland, said: “The European Commission will soon approve Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan. The Irish Government’s exemption allowing farmers to remove hedges on farmland has no legal basis and this fact has been confirmed by the Commission.

“We have no idea how many miles of hedges below the 500m threshold have been removed in Ireland over the past decade. The removal of hedgerows can have significant local ecological impacts. There is no comparison between an old hedge and a young, newly planted one. Many species of birds and other wildlife depend on hedgerows and their margins for food and shelter. It takes years for their ecological value to develop.”

The process surrounding the removal of more than 500 meters of hedges is also of concern. In this case, farmers must submit a screening report for environmental impact assessment to the Ministry of Agriculture. Research undertaken as part of the EIA screening of field boundary removal shows that between 2011 and 2016, 480 applications for EIA screening were received by the Department of Agriculture , of which 411 have been approved, allowing the removal of 155 kilometers of hedges. [2]. However, research shows that 27.6% of selection requests for field boundary removal that were approved between 2011 and 2016 did not contain details of the length of the field boundary to be removed. Almost a third of the applications were approved on the basis of the lack of information on the length of the hedge to be removed.

The EIA screening application form also does not contain questions that would allow an assessor to determine the ecological quality of the hedge proposed for removal. There are also no questions that would allow a person to determine whether any red or orange list species of birds or other wildlife use the hedge. The EIA screening does not ask where the equivalent length will be planted, and this fact is not documented anywhere.

Oonagh Duggan continued: ‘The CAP is taxpayer funded and the least we can hope for is that the government enforces the rules correctly and in accordance with the spirit of the regulations. Conserving landscape features means conserving them, not removing them and planting them somewhere else. It is also clear that the EIA screening process is very poorly implemented and does not really assess the environmental impact. We have no confidence in this process as it is. Hedge removal compensation should cease and the EIA process should be dissolved.

Six counties (Wexford, Cork, Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny and Meath) accounted for over 60% of approvals or 104km of hedge removal between 2011 and 2016. 31 of 411 approvals were granted for field boundary removal for lengths of 1,000 meters or more. These counties are also particularly important areas for the red-listed barn owl and yellowhammer. [3][4].

Only 1% of the 130,000 farmers are inspected to ensure they meet the environmental conditions of the direct payment, making it virtually impossible for the Ministry of Agriculture to determine the extent of hedgerow removal and whether the replanting took place. New hedgerows are not readily visible on satellite images, compounding the problem. Research also shows that the soil organic carbon retained in the soil under old hedgerows (over 37 years old) is 57.2% higher than under new hedgerows. [5].

Oonagh Duggan continued: “Every year BirdWatch Ireland receives many phone calls and emails from people who are exasperated by hedge removal and improper hedge trimming. These are activities that anger and anger people who see the destruction, are aware of the biodiversity crisis and worry about the impacts on wildlife in their area. We call on the Department of Agriculture to take the protection of hedgerows seriously and fund their good management for wildlife in the Irish CAP eco-scheme.”

Birdwatch Ireland calls on Minister McConalogue to stop hedge removal was last modified: June 29, 2022 by Personal editor

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