A Co Kilkenny man has been convicted and fined €2,000 for the removal of 112m and the grubbing of a further 180m of hedgerow on his land.
On Monday 18 July 2022 John Murphy (68) of Ballynaboley, Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny, pleaded guilty to the destruction of the growing vegetation in a hedgerow between 1 March and 31 August in contrary to Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts.
The case was heard at Waterford District Court and the offence took place on and around 14 April 2021 at his home farm.
The destruction to the hedgerow was investigated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and was prosecuted by William Maher BL, instructed by Kilkenny state solicitor Gerald Meaney.
In his evidence to the Court, an NPWS conservation ranger told judge David Staunton that on the 14 April 2021, he travelled to Mullinavat, Co Kilkenny, to investigate a complaint from a member of the public that hedgerows were being destroyed.
On arrival, he reported to have found a machine and piles of vegetation which he believed had come from a hedgerow dividing two fields. The ranger said he observed that some of the vegetation had fresh leaves on it.
Follow-up enquiries led him to the farmyard of Mr Murphy whom he then interviewed. The conservation ranger acknowledged that some of the work may have commenced before 1 March but that the majority was carried out after that date and right up to the day he called to the property.
The NPWS conservation ranger outlined to the court that all birds were protected by law and said that the removed and grubbed hedgerow would have provided nesting opportunities for many farmland bird species.
The court was informed that the bird nesting season is widely advertised and commonly known among farmers and farming organisations.
In summing up the case, judge David Staunton took into account the guilty plea and that as a farmer, Murphy was carrying out works to improve his farm.
However, the Judge commented that this was not the taking out of a bush or pruning back of a tree, and he described the removal of 112m of hedgerow as major activity.
Stating that he was impressed with the evidence provided by the NPWS conservation ranger, Judge Staunton said that the work carried out by Mr Murphy was a blatant disregard for a piece of legislation and that it was important such legislation wasn’t ignored when it suited.
Judge Staunton convicted Mr Murphy and fined him €2,000 with six months to pay.
Welcoming the conviction, Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said hedgerows are “superhighways for nature, connecting habitats and species and providing important nesting and foraging opportunities for wildlife”.
“They also sequester carbon, help with water filtration and attenuation, and purify the air. We need them in our landscapes and should be nurturing them,” he said.
The Minister thanked the NPWS staff involved in bringing the prosecution, and the efforts of staff all around the country who he said have successfully closed 21 prosecutions in 2021 and 21 more to date in 2022, and are currently progressing a further 47.