The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, T.D., has issued a strong reminder to farmers and advisors that hedgerows, trees in a line and drains / ditches are designated as landscape features under Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC). Under GAEC 7 beneficiaries are obliged to retain and maintain designated landscape features.
Landscape features are eligible for payments under the Basic Payment Scheme and other area based schemes.
In addition, field boundaries such as hedgerows, stone walls and clay banks are afforded protection under the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) Regulations (EIA) S.I. 456 of 2011 (as amended by S.I. No. 142 of 2013 and S.I. No. 407 of 2017). Any proposed land restructuring works may require screening and approval by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine under the EIA regulations.
Where hedgerow removal has been deemed to have occurred in breach of EIA screening requirements:
- Land will be subject to inspection by Department officials
- Reinstatement and / or mitigation works will be required and enforced and prosecution may occur.
- Works carried out will be reported to relevant divisions within DAFM including the Basic Payment Scheme
Landscape Features under Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) 7 were designated in 2009 and include:
- Hedgerows including gappy hedgerows
- Trees in a line
- Drains and ditches
- Combinations of hedge, drain and area within fence
They are eligible for payments under the Basic Payment Scheme and must be retained on the holding.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) Regulations (S.I. No. 407 of 2011 as amended) set down clear requirements in respect of screening and approval of certain works on farms including the removal of hedgerows. Guidance is available on the DAFM website and is
- ‘If the length of field boundary to be removed is greater than 500 metres or the area of lands to be restructured by removal of field boundaries is above 5 ha then an application to DAFM for screening is required.
Screening is also required
- If the proposed activity is within, is near, or may affect a proposed Natural Heritage Area or nature reserve;
- If the proposed activity may have a significant effect on the environment. In assessing whether the development is likely to have a significant effect on the environment, the person concerned must consider matters such as the relative abundance of the habitat in the area (which may be lost as a result of the proposed works), the environmental sensitivity of the areas likely to be affected by the project (more detail is provided in the handbook).
- If the proposed activity is identified as ‘requiring consent’ or is a ‘notifiable action’ in a European site (e.g. Special Area of Conservation or Special Protected Area), or an NHA. In such circumstances, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) may direct a landowner to apply to DAFM for screening in the case of sub-threshold works that have been brought to their attention (via notifiable actions system or otherwise) or
- If the proposed activity may impact on an archaeological monument, the National Monuments Service may direct a landowner to apply for screening in the case of sub-threshold works that have been brought to their attention’.