A Cork landowner donated €1,000 to the court poor box in lieu of conviction after he was charged under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act for the clearance of 2ha of vegetation on uncultivated land in July 2020.

Michael Dullea of Coorleigh North, Clonakilty, Co Cork, said he recently purchased the lands at Coorleigh North and that he was reclaiming the land to put it into grass production.

Under the Wildlife Act, destruction of vegetation is prohibited between the dates of 1 March and 31 August in any year on land which is not then under cultivation, except where an exemption applies.

The case arose out of an investigation by the area conservation ranger of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and was taken on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien who is responsible for the enforcement of the Wildlife Act.

The case was prosecuted by Shane O’Callaghan BL and Aidan Judge, State solicitor of Newcastlewest, Co Limerick.

An ideal habitat

The area cleared measured over 2ha and consisted of a well-developed scrub and tree habitat, with patches of wetter lands with willow and alder.

The court heard it was an ideal habitat for a number of bird species for nesting and foraging for food for their young at that particular time of the year.

Dullea, in his evidence to the court, said that while he was aware of restrictions on destroying vegetation in relation to hedgerows, he was not aware that his land reclamation works in the scrub area was prohibited.

The NPWS conservation ranger gave evidence that the landowner was very co-operative during the investigation and agreed to halt the works until the legally appropriate time for their completion.

The landowner told the judge that he intended to write an article for the Irish Farmers Journal newspaper outlining his experience after the court case with a view to highlighting the need for a greater awareness amongst landowners of the provisions of the Wildlife Act and the consequences of contravening this legislation.

No excuse

Judge McNulty said that a farmer of Dullea’s experience and calibre had no excuse for the “lamentable ignorance” displayed in his claim that he was unaware of the legislation in relation to this offence given the widespread publicity in the farming press in relation to the prohibitions that apply to habitat destruction in the bird nesting season.

The landowner agreed to the judge’s direction to make a donation of €1,000 to the court poor box.

District Judge McNulty gave him the benefit of the Probation Act in the light of his co-operation with the investigating officials and his undertaking in relation to writing the article for the Irish Farmers Journal.

Other cases

This is one of six successfully prosecuted cases in the courts of the southwest region this year, with several further cases due for hearing shortly, indicating the commitment of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to applying the provisions of the law to ensure maximum protection of Ireland’s wildlife at a time when there is increasing concern in relation to threats to our overall biodiversity resource.