Fines and penalties issued to Mayo farmer for vegetation destruction during the bird nesting season

Date Released: Monday, October 18, 2021

A Mayo farmer has been fined €4,000 and received a 20% penalty to his farm payments for the destruction of vegetation during bird nesting season.

At the September 10th sitting of Ballina District Court, Mr. Alan Heaney, Killasser, Swinford, Co. Mayo entered a plea via his solicitor, Paul Cunney, Callan Tansey Solicitors, to two offences under the Wildlife Acts. The charges related to Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts, the destruction of vegetation on lands not then cultivated during the statutory bird nesting season and Section 69 relating to procuring the commissioning of an offence under the Acts.

The case was taken by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and prosecuted by Brendan McDonagh BL under instruction form Vincent Deane, State solicitor for County Mayo.

Conservation Ranger Irene O’Brien, NPWS outlined the facts of the case to Judge Fiona Lydon. Conservation Rangers Irene O’Brien and Hazel Doyle visited lands owned by Mr Heaney on May 01st 2020 at Creggagh, Foxford, Co. Mayo. An excavator was witnessed actively grubbing out and completely removing trees and scrub. There were numerous piles of freshly removed vegetation over an area of approximately 1.9 acres.

The machine operator admitted carrying out the works for the landowner, Mr. Heaney who was subsequently interviewed and admitted he had commissioned the works but was not aware of the requirements of Section 40.

CR O’Brien outlined to the court the requirements of Section 40 where it is an offence to remove vegetation on lands not then cultivated or from any hedge or ditch during the bird nesting period that runs from March 01st until August 31st every year and the importance of these habitats to Irelands bird species. These works were deemed not to be derogated for under Section 40 and did not come within the ‘ordinary course of Agriculture’ defence and were done at the height of the bird nesting season.

Ireland’s hedgerows, woodlands and scrub are critically important areas for nesting and foraging birds and for biodiversity in general. Whilst Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts prohibits removal of vegetation during nesting season if not derogated, the complete removal of hedgerows at any time of the year is also strictly governed by Cross compliance with EU Basic Payment Scheme rules. The majority of farmed lands in Ireland come under Basic Payment Scheme requirements where landscape features such as hedgerows, lines of trees and drains/ditches are protected and have to be retained. Any other removal of scrub has to comply with the Statutory Management Requirements for the Conservation of Wild Birds and prohibits the removal of vegetation during the bird nesting season.

The court also heard that Mr Heaney received a 20% penalty to his farm payments following a cross compliance report on the incident submitted to the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine.

In summing up, Judge Lydon remarked that since the pandemic began, people took a lot of solace and mental well-being from connecting with nature and bird life and that the accused should have been more mindful of his actions and his responsibilities and that we need to ensure the preservation of our natural habitats and woodlands.

She then directed Mr Heaney to pay €4000 to the Native Woodland Trust charity on the Section 40 charge. The case was concluded at the October 12th sitting of Ballina District Court with the fines paid to the nominated charity and the charges struck out.

NPWS have noted an increase in the number of reports of the complete removal of hedgerows and vegetation on lands not cultivated during the statutory bird nesting season. These are predominantly done for agricultural improvement reasons. NPWS are committed to investigating fully where this is happening due to the implications for such actions for nesting birds and biodiversity. There are a number of Section 40 cases before the courts nationally and NPWS would appeal to landowners to be fully aware of their legal responsibilities in terms of Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts and also any requirements under EU Basic Payment Scheme Rules and Cross Compliance where this applies.

Bird's Nest