Section 8 of the bill, which proposes to allow some hedge-cutting in August and vegetation burning in March on a two-year pilot basis, was not scheduled for debate – yet it was again a hot discussion topic after a similar session last November.

Several opposition senators spoke at length to oppose relaxing the dates. Independent Senator David Norris described the bill as “an election gimmick to buy the farmers’ vote”. Labour Senator Kevin Humpreys argued that farmers could lose out on EU payments as environmental conditions become stricter and warned against the knock-on effect of reduced pollinator activity on farming.

The bill has support from Fianna Gael and Fianna Fáil. Supporting section 8 of the bill, Co Cork dairy farmer and Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard described Senator Humphreys’s position as “anti-rural”. Fianna Fáil Senator Paul Daly, also a farmer, said: “The Bill suggests the minister will define the geography, timing, location and who is permitted to carry out the burning. It is not a free-for-all.”

This is less than 5% of national hedgerows

IFA environment chair Thomas Cooney told the Irish Farmers Journal that Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys, who introduced the bill, is planning to allow August trimming of one year’s growth only off those hedgerows that are along roads, in fields that have been reseeded, and in tillage fields with winter crops. “This is less than 5% of national hedgerows,” Cooney said. He added that controlled burning from March would prevent the large gorse fires seen in drier summer weather, resulting in a lower overall area burned every year.

An IFA delegation was in Leinster House on Thursday to urge senators to support the bill in the interest of better land management. “We’d be concerned if there was a snap election called,” Cooney said, after the previous election delayed progress on the legislation for most of last year. He urged the Seanad to pass the bill on to the Dáil for adoption before August. A three-month consultation period is now planned between the Seanad and Dáil stages, adding to a process that has already taken more than one year since the bill was first introduced.


Around 60 environmentalists and beekeepers, several of them farmers, staged a protest against the bill on the street outside Leinster House. Donal Sheehan, who milks 70 cows in Castlelyons, Co Cork, and is a member of Birdwatch Ireland, said the current six-month period is sufficient to manage vegetation. “Food companies are looking for high standards in biodiversity,” he told the Irish Farmers Journal. “Their consumers want a sustainable food product. Cutting down hedges is not sustainable – they also take carbon out of the atmosphere.”

Gerry Ryan, chair of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Association, highlighted the importance of August blackberry and clover flowers to his industry. “It’s the pollen from that blackberry that builds up the fat bodies of our winter bees, so that when they’re going into the winter, they are much stronger,” he told the Irish Farmers Journal.

Listen to an interview with Gerry Ryan in our podcast below:

Listen to “Beekeepers oppose August hedge cutting” on Spreaker.

Two farmers taking part in the protest told the Irish Farmers Journal they were members of the IFA, but disagreed with the association’s support for the bill. “In the existing six months, there is always a good bit of dry weather or frost” to manage hedge-cutting, said sheep farmer Damien Murray from Kilmessan, Co Meath. “Farmers are so busy calving and milking that they don’t notice what is happening in the hedgerows anymore, they just phone the contractor,” added Co Kilkenny farmer Hugh Daniels. “They have lost touch with nature.”

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