The Department of Housing has been called on to provide clarity on its interpretation of the term “in the ordinary course of agriculture or forestry” in Section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976 as amended by the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Heritage Act 2018.
This is in “order to allow for the extension the current open working period for the operation of hedge maintenance machinery on farms by 16 days this spring, until 17 March 2021,” the Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) has said.
FCI has requested that this proposed extension period up until 17 March can be restricted solely to flail machines and exclude the use of mulchers and/or saw blades during this proposed extension period.
The FCI request has been made to take account of the fact that Irish farmland has experienced a prolonged period of heavy rainfall during the months of January and February, it said, adding that the latest data for the period showed that the monthly rainfall totals were well above their long-term average (LTA).
FCI has said it is now also issuing its members with a permission form to allow them to carry out essential hedge management services during the closed period 2021.
FCI is advising its members to have the permission form signed by their farmer clients and their farm advisers before carrying out any works on farm hedges, to give endorsement to the farm contractor that the hedge management work is being carried out “in the ordinary course of agriculture or forestry”.
FCI believes that the interpretation of the term “in the ordinary course of agriculture or forestry” is the responsibility of the farm owner and his/her farm adviser when it comes to the farm management decision to instruct the operation of hedge maintenance machinery on farms.
FCI chair John Hughes said farm contractors providing a mechanical hedge management service to their client farms cannot accept responsibility for that farm management decision to proceed with the hedge management work during the closed season.
“We are advising our members to adhere to the Wildlife Act 2018 regulations and we are seeking that the onus of responsibility for interpretation of the term ‘in the ordinary course of agriculture or forestry’ rests with farm owners and their respective advisers.
“The continuing high levels of rainfall has resulted in more flooding and poor conditions in many fields.
“This has severely impacted on the ability of farm contractors to provide hedge management services to fulfil their annual hedge management work schedules for their client farmers,” Hughes said.