Environmental groups slam Heritage Bill roll back of Irish nature laws
A coalition of environmental NGOs and concerned citizens will rally outside Leinster House today to call on the Government to halt the roll back of Ireland’s nature laws proposed in the Heritage Bill. BirdWatch Ireland, the Irish Wildlife Trust, An Taisce, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations and the Hedgelaying Association of Ireland will also present the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ms. Josepha Madigan a petition signed by over 31,000 people who reject the proposed changes in the Bill . The coalition is calling on Minister Madigan to remove the offending sections of the Bill and to set up stakeholder groups to discuss the issues and to support solutions which benefit wildlife, farmers and other landowners.
Currently, in order to protect breeding birds, hedgecutting and the burning of vegetation in our uplands and lowland hills is prohibited between March 1st and August 31st (Closed Period), with the notable exception that hedgecutting by roads authorities to address road safety concerns is allowed at any time during this period . The Heritage Bill proposes to change these laws and to allow burning in our uplands and lowland hills in March, and to loosen the current laws on roadside hedgecutting by permitting landowners to self-define road safety issues and to deal with them year round and removing the existing regulatory oversight by the Minister for Heritage.
Bill will mean devastation for wildlife
The Heritage Bill, if passed as is, will reduce the legal protection for our wildlife at a time when they need all the help they can get. It will further undermine Ireland’s so-called green image as presented in Origin Green and the Wild Atlantic Way. Over 90% of Ireland’s habitats, including those of our uplands, are in ‘bad’ or ‘inadequate’ ecological condition . The BirdWatch Ireland Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland List  has the highest ever number of threatened bird species since it started. A third of Ireland’s wild bees are also under threat of extinction . We need to do all that we can to protect our wildlife and their habitats and not undermine the laws that protect them. Enforcement of existing wildlife protection legislation is already a concern; this Bill will create even greater difficulties for enforcement agencies.
The proposal to permit burning of heather and gorse in our mountains and hills in March will not only further endanger birds just starting to breed, such as the iconic and globally-threatened Curlew and the declining Hen Harrier  , but will also impact bees that depend on gorse as a food source early in the Spring.
Likewise, the removal of the regulatory oversight of the National Parks and Wildlife Service for roadside hedgecutting could create a dangerous national free for all on the cutting on roadside hedgerows and potentially seriously impact on bird species, such as the endangered Yellowhammer. Hedgerows provide vital food sources for wild bees, honey bees, mammals, and butterflies they will also be negatively impacted.
A new vision for nature conservation is urgently required
Thousands of people around Ireland enjoy and care deeply about our wildlife. This is evident in the numbers of people attending wildlife-focused events and acting as citizen scientists undertaking biodiversity recording activities. Ireland’s wildlife is also intrinsically connected with farming and both must not only survive but thrive. A new vision for and attitude towards nature is urgently needed to halt biodiversity loss and so we can stand over the environmental credentials that we market as a country. This must begin with stopping the regressive Heritage Bill.
Oonagh Duggan, Assistant Head of Policy and Advocacy of BirdWatch Ireland, said:
“The Heritage Bill will be disastrous for the birds of our uplands and hedgerows.”
“There is an opportunity here for Minister Madigan to drop Sections 7 and 8 of the Heritage Bill and to set up a dialogue where all players can sit together and work out long term solutions for our uplands and hedgerows. “
Pádraic Fogarty from the Irish Wildlife Trust said: “The government must abandon this regressive legislation which will do untold damage to already beleaguered wildlife populations. It’s high time we placed a higher value on the amazing benefits nature brings.”
“We hope that the Minister will take note of our concerns, and the concerns of more than 31,000 Irish citizens and pull back on this legislation.”
Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer of An Taisce, said:
“Last year thousands of hectares of mountain, hill, bog and forest habitat were destroyed during the closed season, incinerating the wildlife that cannot escape fast enough, including helpless chicks in their nests, or animals which find themselves caught between flames and fences.
“Changes to wildlife legislation should strengthen the protection for nature, not reduce it. Unfortunately, the Government have got this one the wrong way around with the damaging Heritage Bill.”
Pádraic Fogarty, The Irish Wildlife Trust, email@example.com