A County Kildare farmer has been fined over €2,500 for illegal hedgecutting.
Mr Robert Conlon, Eyrefield Road, Athgarvan, Co. Kildare, appeared before Nass District Court charged with two offences under the Wildlife Acts on Monday, March 1st.
The case was prosecuted by Gareth Robinson BL instructed by State Solicitor Sharon Murphy.
The case was taken on behalf of the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
Both offences occurred on July 15th, 2019, at Dunmurry, Co. Kildare. The first charge relates to Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts, which makes it an offence to destroy vegetation on uncultivated land during the bird nesting season, which runs from March 1st to August 31st each year.
The defendant was also charged under Section 69 of the Wildlife Acts for aiding and abetting the Section 40 offence. Mr Conlon pleaded guilty to both charges.
Mr. Kieran Buckley, a conservation ranger with the NPWS, outlined to Judge Desmond Zaidan at Naas District Court, that on the day of the offense, he observed a significant amount of vegetation had been destroyed in an area near Dunmurry House.
He told the judge that Mr Conlon cut the vegetation at a particularly sensitive time of the year when young birds are still in their nests – and which are hidden among vegetation.
He told the court that vegetation growing in uncultivated land is very important habitat for breeding birds.
Judge Zidane said he was aware that there was a lot of this type of activity going on and wondered why it cannot be done outside of the nesting season, to protect wild birds.
The judge also noted the high level of public concern surrounding the cutting of vegetation during the bird nesting season and asked Mr Buckley: was this act carried out with malice.
Mr Buckley explained to the judge that Mr Conlon told him that he was “tidying up the place”. He claimed the defendant seemed indifferent to the consequences of his actions.
Prosecuting counsel, Gareth Robinson BL, told the judge that Wildlife Act offenses carry a Class A fine of up to €5,000 for each summons.
When he was asked by the judge what were the costs, Mr Robinson replied €1,000.
The judge revised this figure to €500, plus vat. Defence council for Mr Conlon told the court that her client, who farms land in Dumurry, was prepared to make a charitable donation of €1,000.
Judge Zidane replied that this figure was insufficient and imposed a €2,000 fine on Mr. Conlon for the Section 40 offence, ordered that he pay the €500 plus vat, and took into consideration the Section 69 offense.
The Judge found the facts of the case proven and applied the Probation Act to Mr Conlon. He asked Mr Buckley to nominate a wildlife charity and The Irish Wildlife Trust were nominated as the recipients.
Commenting on the value of hedgerows, Padraig O’Donnell, regional manager with the NPWS said: “Around the country, hedgerows which have been growing for hundreds of years are being wiped out.”
“These have been growing out and supporting huge biodiversity but once they are destroyed, they are gone forever, as is the biodiversity that depended on them.”
“Everything from birds to mammals to insects to plants. They are a source of food and shelter and one of our most important habitats.”
Zero-tolerance approach to illegal hedgecutting
Following this case, the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has warned of a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to the illegal cutting of hedges between March 1st and August 31st each year.