Health and safety has been used as an excuse to destroy trees and hedgerows across Cork, a Green Party councillor has said.
The cutting of hedges in Cork is to be discussed at a joint roads and environment Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) meeting following a Green Party motion to reassess the current guidelines.
Introducing his motion in County Hall, Councillor Liam Quaide said over the past year there has been a justified public outcry over the accelerated destruction of trees and hedgerows across the country.
“Hedgerows are pulverised often in areas where no safety risks are imposed. Indeed the health and safety approach has been carte blanche to destroy everything in sight.”
Mr Quaide said to protect our biodiversity from the onslaught of heavy machinery, we need stronger legislation at a national level and proper enforcement of that legislation.
“As a council, we can at least bring in stricter rules which protect our wildlife and the natural beauty of our hedgerows and trees.”
The Green Party Councillor said that the expertise of Cork Nature Network and the Cork Environmental Forum should be used to ensure the guidelines are suitable and appropriate.
Fianna Fáil Councillor James O’Connor opposed the motion from the perspective of farmers and the agricultural community.
“Landowners are entitled to maintain their hedges as they like between the months of Sept to February and I don’t think the members of the agricultural community need to be told how to maintain their land.
“I don’t like the idea of someone coming into our farm and telling us how our hedges are to be maintained.”
Mr Quaide’s motion was seconded by Sinn Féin Cllr Danielle Twomey who said she saw no harm educating people about biodiversity and how important hedgerows are and the life that lives in them.
Councillor Paul Hayes said it was a hot topic and a thorny issue that had been discussed many times before.
“I certainly think more education and discussion with the agricultural community is appropriate.
“I have seen in parts of the country absolute butchering of hedges in recent weeks and we need to find the balance. We are looking at promoting cycling and walking and preventing damage to our vehicles, so if this motion improves that I would certainly support it.”
Fianna Fáil Councillor Seamus McGrath said the issue needs further debate and review.
“This needs proper scrutiny. Changes need to be properly thought through. It is about striking the correct balance.
“I suggest this goes back to a joint session of both SPCs, roads and environment, for members to discuss, A clear policy is important.”
County Mayor Christopher O’Sullivan also supported the motion.
Cork County Council Chief Executive Tim Lucey said he would like to see it sent to both SPCs as he had some concerns regarding the mixed messages that might arise from adopting the motion in its present form.
“Public awareness around biodiversity is a significant issue,” Mr Lucey said.