A landowner and two contractors were ordered to pay more than €6,400 in fines and legal costs after they pleaded guilty to cutting hedges out of season in Co Westmeath.

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage took the successful prosecution against Helen Killian of Greenpark House, Ballinea, and two contractors, John Joe Heaney from Newry, Co Down, and Ronan McCann from Clonaslee, Co Laois.

The judge imposed fines of €1,500 on each defendant and also ordered each defendant to pay €635 to the State to cover legal costs.

State solicitor Peter Jones presented the case in Mullingar District Court recently, saying it breached Section 40(1)(b) of the Wildlife Acts.

Conservation ranger Therese Kelly of the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) represented the minister and outlined the evidence to the court.

Three reports

Ranger Kelly stated that on 19 March 2020, accompanied by her colleague ranger Tríona Finnen, she responded to three separate reports from concerned members of the public that hedges and trees were being cut at Greenpark House.

She told the judge that while on site she observed freshly cut hedgerows with excavator tracks alongside them.

She further stated that she cautioned contractor Ronan McCann on site that day and while he initially denied cutting any hedges, on further inspection, ranger Kelly saw a circular saw attachment in the back of a pick-up he was driving.

Photographic evidence

Ranger Kelly explained to the judge that the circular saw could be attached to an excavator and could be used to cut through dense vegetation, including tree trunks.

She showed Judge Hughes photographic evidence and said she observed many tree crowns lying on the ground beside the damaged hedgerows.

Looking at the evidence, Judge Hughes asked her was it correct that 2,352m of hedgerow had been cut, to which she replied that it was.

Ranger Kelly went on to say that accounted for about 93% of the internal hedgerows in the land holding.

She described the damage as extensive and informed the court that wild birds in Ireland rely heavily on hedgerows for breeding, as we do not have vast tracts of broadleaved woodlands.

Defence solicitor for Ms Killian Louis Kiernan told the judge that his client was part-owner of the lands and she was keen to “tidy them up” for sale.

Judge Hughes remarked that while some people like to see a nice neat hedge, it had to be cut at the appropriate time of the year.