Cut. Burn, Flood.

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narrow lane of hedgerow illustrating an article about how cutting hedgerows causes floodsIt’s not often I find myself in agreement with the Sunday Times, journalist, Kevin Myers…

However recently he described the release of Minister Heather Humphrey’s plans to allow the hedge-cutting season to be extended into August and for hedgerow burning to be allowed during March as being like ‘burning lifeboats in the Titanic’s furnace to get to the iceberg faster’

I had to agree.

Minister Humphrys announcement followed a review of Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts which restricted the burning and cutting of vegetation between 1st March and 31st August.

Flooding has brought widespread devastation both in Ireland and in the UK. 


flooded fields and road illustrating an article about how cutting hedgerows causes floods

In addition to climate change and badly managed land development, there is much evidence to support the link between the loss of our trees and hedgerows and the increase in floods.

As I write many homes here in Galway remain under water. 

Many people have suffered the loss of their homes, their livelihoods and land.


According to the UK’s Woodland Trust trees do the following:

1. Reduce risk of flooding by reducing run off.

2. Improve the quality of water by filtering pollutants.

The Irish Examiner today published an article about The Pontbren Project – a study into trees and their effects on the environment that was undertaken by Bangor University in Wales. The study found that:

‘soil under mixed native trees absorbs water 67 times faster than under grass: Native trees have such deep roots that they provide channels to send the water much further underground. The soil under native trees acts as a sponge — a reservoir — which sucks in water, then releases it slowly.’

flooded woodlands illustrating an article about how cutting hedgerows causes floodsSadly for us, Ireland now has the lowest forest cover of all European countries with a meagre 11% coverage compared to the European average of 30%

Flood prevention is of course not the only function of our trees and hedgerows.

Hedgerows were originally planted in the 18th Century to prevent cattle escaping and provide land boundaries.

They have developed into a healthy mixture of trees and shrubs with hawthorn and blackthorn, dog rose, elder, crab apple, hazel coexisting in a wonderful tangle.

Living in amongst the trees and hedgerows are numerous creatures like badgers, owls, hedgehogs, stoats, blackbirds and innumerable plants, butterflies and other insects.

The hedgerows near where I live dance with birds and butterflies

brown butterfly illustrating an article about how cutting trees and hedgerows cause floodsAccording to The Irish Wildlife Trust hedgerows are home to 37 species of shrubs and 105 species of wild flora.

They also state that hedgerows are ‘vital in providing pollinators, cleaning our air, defining our landscape, storing carbon and by holding back the flow of water off land they can alleviate flooding.’

A brief reading of the Teagasc website tells me that our government policy is to increase Ireland’s forest cover to 17% which seems to me to be a pretty low goal and one which is unlikely to be helped by Minister Humphrey’s decision.

Now, I know there are more issues involved in this that environmental ones. I used to live in a road where the view of the oncoming traffic was completely obscured by an overgrown hedgerow.

We literally risked our lives to join the main road and it was our only access so I am well aware that there are dangers to human life.


I agree that where this is an issue and if no other solutions are available then managed cutting should be an option – but this should be undertaken carefully, very carefully.

Given that a lack of care and foresight, not to mention difficulties in enforcing the existing legislation has led to our current situation it is unlikely that enough caution will be used now and this should worry us all.

References and thanks to:

Kevin Myers and The Sunday Times







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