Our Disappearing Hedgerows

Hedgerows Ireland Petition TD’s to Act

Have you ever rambled along a country road smelling the blossoms from overhanging trees and then reached in to the hedge to pick a few juicy blackberries? Or perhaps stooped down to the tar and gathered acorns where their little caps have popped off revealing a perfect oval nut? If so, then perhaps you’ll be interested in efforts being taken to protect Irish hedges. This week we look at a recent protest spearheaded by Hedgerows Ireland to highlight frustration with the inadequate protections and incentives for Irish hedges. During the protest the group handed over a signed letter and petition calling on the Minister to make immediate changes but first…

Who are Hedgerows Ireland?

Hedgerows Ireland are a broad alliance of interested parties that work towards the enhancement and protection of hedgerows in Ireland. The group is made up of landowners, farmers, nature lovers and more. Their website can be found at https://hedgerowsireland.org/ The group believe that hedgerows are key to solving or improving many of the challenges facing our countryside. These include:

Owl Population Directly Related to Hedgerows

  • Carbon capture.
  • Habitat corridors for a very wide range of bird, animal and invertebrate species including many threatened ones. Seriously threatened populations such as those of our native bats and owl rely heavily on hedgerows for hunting and foraging opportunities. 
  • Flood and drought reduction, water filtration.
  • Shelter.
  • Beauty and landscape identity

What do they want more of?

In a nutshell Hedgerows Ireland want more for farmers. The group believe that farmers should be incentivised for maintaining, expanding and protecting good quality hedgerows – they believe this can be achieved through farm schemes and the group are critical that the recent changes to CAP and agricultural payments which did little to improve the situation.

During recent public consultations organised by the Department of Agriculture, Hedgerows Ireland recommended a scheme to ensure that all existing hedgerows would be retained and maintained with either side cutting only, or no cutting of internal/non roadside boundaries and that these should be cut no lower than 2m.

Furthermore they proposed and outlined results based payments for hedgerows using recognized measures of quality (height, width, species,  diversity  etc.) Results based payments are already being successfully used in Ireland in regional schemes organised by the likes of BurrenLife and the Bride project.

What do they want to stop?

The group (and signatories from other leading bodies) want Minister McConalogue to immediately reduce the current permissible 500 metre hedgerow removal limit pending the outcome of the promised review by the Department of Agriculture. At present it’s legal in Ireland to remove up to 500 metres of ancient hedgerow without any oversight. Many of these hedges denote the boundaries of townlands, of historic land holdings and indeed contained essential trees, shrubs and flora that were an essential part of rural life in centuries gone by.

Removal of Entire Hedgerows is Widespread

Hedgerow Ireland report that approximately 3000 km of hedgerows are being removed annually in Ireland and the group say that many of these hedges are centuries old and are part of our rich heritage. Furthermore the group spare no punches in their criticism of state bodies, especially County Councils for their part in facilitating the ongoing destruction. The group also point to research that proved that less than one third of remaining hedgerows are in good condition.

Presentation of Letter to the Minister

Signatories to the Letter

The letter to Minister McConalogue was drafted by Dr Alan Moore of Hedgerows Ireland and cosigned by representatives from notable and vocal advocates for biodiversity and rural improvement such as the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, Native Irish Honey Bee Society, Federation of Irish Beekeepers, Talamh Beo, Burrenlife Project, Bride Project, An Taisce, Bat Conservation Ireland, Munster Regional Trout Angling Council, Irish Doctors for the Environment, Mick Kelly, GIY Waterford, Irish Wildlife Trust and Woodlands of Ireland.

Creating & Maintaining a Food Forest Garden

Workshop at Rowan Wellness and Gardens

This time we’re joined by Mary McMullen of Rowan Wellness & Gardens – a centre for yoga, breathwork, meditation, nature and all things wellness. Mary’s gardens near Maudabawn in Cavan recently played host to Phil Wheal who delivered a very hands on workshop on creating and maintaining a “Food Forest” Garden. “Learning by doing” was the order of the day and all participants got mucky and active. But first things first…..

What is a food forest? 

A food forest, also called a forest garden, is a diverse planting of edible plants that attempts to mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in nature. A well designed food forest:

  • Places emphasis on trees, shrubs, perennials, and self-seeding annuals,
  • Plants thickly and using ground covers to shade soil and suppress weeds,
  • Uses nitrogen-fixing and nutrient-accumulating plants, chop-and-drop techniques, and returning wastes to the land to create healthy soil rather than applying fertilizer,
  • Plants a diverse array of plants that attract beneficial insects to pollinate the fruit crops and keep pest populations from exploding and causing damage,
  • Creates micro-climates and windbreaks which helps smaller plants thrive.

Through time it will create a diverse and rich ecosystem of productive plants that can be easily maintained and enjoyed.

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Farming Sliabh Beagh with Pat McKenna

Where Old School Farming meets High Tech

In this article we speak to Pat McKenna, a North Monaghan farmer about his role in the innovative conservation grazing programme on Sliabh Beagh. We also find out how “Virtual Fencing” and other conservation efforts are helping restore Sliabh Beagh’s ecological richness.

Increasing Fires
Back in 2007 a massive fire destroyed over 700 hectares (1750 acres) of the Special Area of Conversation located on the upper slopes of Sliabh Beagh in North Monaghan. The fire wiped out ground nesting birds and vast areas of rare flora and fauna and it can take an upland many years to recover: in the aftermath of a fire some of the first species to reestablish are the invasive and quick growing grasses that can choke and restrict the rarer plant species. Locals were also noticing reductions in rare ground nesting birds as well as increasing amounts of self seeding Sitka Spruce from conifer forestry plantations. In response, a group of stakeholders developed maps detailing vegetation types across the vast area as well as history of burns in the area. It was decided that conservation grazing would be a cost effective method to graze the fire prone vegetation and thus reduce the intensity and spread of any future fires. The mountain area is vast and so electronic collars are fitted to the cattle enabling the farmer to track their movements and also allowing virtual fencing to restrict cattle to where they are needed. 

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