The Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland (FCI) is calling on the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage, to grant an extension to the current open working period for the operation of hedge maintenance machinery on farms by 16 days this spring.
The association is making the request in light of a “very prolonged” period of heavy rain during the month of January.
The most recent Met Éireann data for January 2021 showed that the majority of monthly rainfall totals were above their Long-Term Average (LTA).
FCI National Chair, John Hughes, said: “This high level of rainfall that has resulted in poor conditions in many fields, has severely impacted on the ability of farm contractors who provide hedge management services, to fulfil their annual hedge management work schedules for their client farmers.“
“The type of work that we are seeking an extension for will be restricted to annual hedge maintenance work that ensures sustainable stock-proof fencing while preserving bio-diverse habitats in Irish hedgerows.”
He stated that while the FCI accept that this extension will not provide a guarantee of suitable weather conditions, based on previous weather records, field conditions are highly likely to have improved enough to allow machines to traffic in field conditions without undue damage.”
Seeking extension to hedge-cutting deadline
This work to be carried out during this proposed extension period until March 17th, 2021, can be restricted solely to flail machines and exclude the use of mulchers and/or saw blades during this proposed extension period, he added.
In these circumstances, he outlined that FCI will actively inform members of this restriction with information notes and text updates to ensure conformity with the extension date proposal.
“Our members are more aware than many people of the intrinsic value of the biodiversity contained in the hedgerows and are regularly reminded through information meetings and bulletins of their important role in its preservation.”
Hughes added that recent Met Éireann data also shows that soil moisture deficits were in minus figures at each weather station in Ireland for the month of January. Even relatively dry areas such as Johnstown Castle, Wexford recorded a -3.8 figure for soil moisture deficit during January 2021.
“This provides clear evidence of the levels of soil moistures as they impact on the ability of hedge management machinery to be used in field conditions without causing severe field surface and deeper soil structural damage.”
‘No longer practical’
FCI stated that the weather conditions that we have experienced in Ireland this year serve to confirm why the current closed period deadlines are no longer practical and hence why it is calling for an extension to the hedge-cutting deadline on farms.
The backlog of work to be completed at this stage is such as to put the safe operating of hedge management machinery when working against an “unrealistic” deadline of February 28th, 2021.
“These closed period tight deadlines are forcing FCI member contractors, who provide mechanised hedge management services across Ireland, to work lengthy hours both on and off roads, during periods of short days and poor working conditions.”
The delays already induced by the poor weather conditions in January 2021 will result in significant additional health and safety risks to machinery operators and other road users.
“Given the extent of hedgerows that require management in Ireland, the working time calendar cannot be achieved in a practical and safe way this year to meet the needs of farmers, environmentalists and general road users because of the current weather constraints,” Hughes concluded on FCI’s call for an extension to hedge-cutting deadline date.
‘Slash and burn’
Meanwhile, the Mayo Green Party is calling for an immediate halt to what it describes as the “savage and unnecessary hedge and tree cutting” currently being undertaken by Mayo County Council along many of Mayo’s roads.
Liam Heffron, Chairman of the Mayo Green Party, said that members had expressed shock at its latest meeting about the “butchery” that they have seen along a number of roads over recent weeks.
“There is simply no accounting for the slash and burn approach that the county council is taking towards hedge cutting along many of our roads at the moment,” he said. Read the full article from Liam Heffron: Mayo Green Party call for halt to ‘savage’ hedge and tree-cutting.