Legislation, drafted following a request for assistance from Hedgerows Ireland (Tipperary), to be introduced in the Oireachtas by the Green Party
A Bill aimed at protecting hedgerows which has been drafted on a pro-bono basis by a group of barristers following a request for assistance from Hedgerows Ireland (Tipperary), was launched at an event in The Bar of Ireland on 4th December. The launch is the first event in The Bar of Ireland’s Natural Justice Campaign, through which it aims to improve public knowledge on the intersection of law and the environment, facilitate links with the community in responding to environmental issues and equip individuals to take action.
The Protection of Hedgerows Bill 2023 - which was drafted by the Hedgerows Legislation Project, a working group of Comhshaol - The Climate Bar Association, introduces the concept of ‘significant hedgerows’ and a requirement for permission to be sought by landowners for their removal. The Green Party intends to introduce it in the Oireachtas as a private members bill next year. While some protection is afforded to hedgerows in current legislation, the Hedgerows Legislation Project determined that, because it is limited and much of it indirect, the hedgerow network continues to be eroded. It is estimated that there are 689,000 km of native Irish hedgerows in Ireland, but they are being removed at an unsustainable rate. A 2019 survey by the EPA reported the loss to be at a rate of at least 0.16%, or 1,100 km removed per annum.* A study undertaken in Monaghan in 2021 concluded that between 0.5% and 0.88% of hedgerow was removed in the county per annum in the study period, much higher than the EPA figure. The authors estimated that almost 10% of the county’s hedgerows had been lost over the ten year period to 2021.**
Native hedgerows corridors are fundamental to the Irish landscape because of their significant contribution to biodiversity, flood control, soil protection, carbon storage, shelter, shade, animal welfare, pest control and beauty. The fact that Ireland has the lowest level of native woodland cover in Europe, places a greater importance on the role played by native hedgerows corridors.
Sara Phelan SC, Chair of the Council of The Bar of Ireland, said; “Climate change is the defining crisis of our time. The impact of this on current and future legislation, and litigation, will be considerable. The protection of biodiversity, reducing emissions and other measures are now finding expression in our legal system and courts. This can be seen across the globe, Europe and at home. The role of independent lawyers and the courts in interpreting these emerging policies will be important, as well as how the courts balance a myriad of rights and obligations. The Bar of Ireland's Natural Justice Campaign seeks to confront that and engage with a host of stakeholders in asking the question of how we are supporting public awareness and knowledge of the law in such a complex debate.”
Leesha O’Driscoll SC, Chair of the Hedgerows Legislation Project, a working group of Comhshaol - The Climate Bar Association said; “The evidence for the protection of hedgerows is compelling. For the purpose of this Bill and in order to prepare legislation that balances the rights of landowners with the needs of our environment and wider society in a way that is proportionate, justifiable and practicably enforceable, the substantive provisions concern only significant hedgerows. 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.”
Dr Alan Moore, of Hedgerows Ireland (Tipperary), said; “We have so much to gain from protecting our native hedgerow corridors, and in our experience the vast majority of landowners appreciate that. A significant and disproportionate amount of hedgerow loss and damage is associated with a small minority of landowners and some state and semi state bodies, and that is why we believe it’s important for their protection to be provided for in legislation, so that there can be no ambiguity.”
Steven Matthews TD, Green Party spokesperson on Planning and Local Government and Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage said; “The importance of a healthy, connected network of hedgerows is often overlooked. They form important ecological corridors across our country providing shelter, food and connectivity to habitats for an array of species. I am delighted to work with the Climate Bar to steer this important legislation through the Oireachtas.” Brian Leddin TD, Green Party Spokesperson for Transport, Climate Action and Environment and Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action said; “The destruction of our hedgerows in the recent years has been alarming and we need strong legislation to protect our natural heritage.”