The Department of Agriculture gave the green light to 835 of the 1,044 screening requests made to it under the environmental impact assessment regulations since the law was introduced in 2011.

Farmers must have proposed land improvement works screened by the Department under the regulations if the works exceeding the thresholds set out.

Farm works concerned include removing hedgerows to make fields larger, intensifying uncultivated land or semi-natural areas and farmland drainage works.

“Decisions were issued in relation to 1,031 of these applications by the end of May 2023," Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said in response to a recent question from Sinn Féin’s climate spokesperson Darren O’Rourke TD.

“The remaining applications are still being processed. Of the 1,031 cases where decisions issued, a total of 835 were approved.”

2023 figures

In the first five months of 2023, 13 of the 16 screening applications were approved by the Department. The works approved represent the removal of just under 3km of hedgerows

Among those rejected were an application to restructure land into a 6.5ha block in Co Louth and other proposed works which sought to restructure 622m of a boundary in Co Cavan.

Key thresholds

The figures come as a full review is under way of all aspects of the environmental impact assessment regulations.

A full environmental impact assessment report is needed for larger works.

The thresholds where a full report is mandatory for farmers is 4km for hedgerows, 50ha for drainage and 50ha for taking uncultivated/semi-natural land into intensive use.

Current thresholds that rule if Department screening is needed for works include the removal of hedgerows above 500m, the draining of parcels larger than 15ha and taking more than 5ha of semi-natural areas into intensive use.

The Minister also reminded farmers that those receiving direct payments are only allowed to remove hedgerows if a new hedge twice the length of the one removed is planted elsewhere on the farm.