Farmers may have to seek permission to remove hedgerows from their land in the future, if a new bill is signed into law.
The protection of hedgerows bill 2023 was drafted by the Hedgerows Legislation Project, a group of pro-bono barristers, following a request from Hedgerows Ireland.
The bill will introduce the concept of ‘significant hedgerows’, which would require landowners to seek permission for their removal.
Chair of the Hedgerows Legislation Project Leesha O’Driscoll SC said significant hedgerows are those which are particularly impactful to the countryside.
“These are hedgerows that have a significance in terms of the impact of the services they provide to ecosystems, biodiversity, agricultural systems and contribution to the value or integrity of our archaeological, historical, heritage or cultural sites.
“If enacted, the bill will establish the principle that significant hedgerows are worth protecting and ought to therefore only be removed in specified circumstances where there is no viable alternative,” O’Driscoll said.
The bill is being launched on Monday 4 December.
The Green Party intends to introduce it as a private members bill next year.
Under current legislation there are provisions for the protection of hedgerows.
However, according to the Hedgerows Legislation Project, because this is limited and indirect, the hedgerow network continues to be eroded.
It is estimated that there are 689,000km of native hedgerows in Ireland, which are important for biodiversity.
A 2019 survey by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported the loss of hedgerows to be at a rate of at least 0.16% or 1,100km removed per annum.
A study undertaken in Monaghan in 2021 stated that between 0.5% and 0.88% of hedgerow was removed in the county per annum during the study period.
The authors of the Monaghan Hedgerows Appraisal Survey 2021 estimated that almost 10% of the county’s hedgerows had been lost over the 10-year period to 2021.
Under the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES), there are actions farmers can implement to improve the amount and condition of hedgerows on their farms.