More than 450,000ha or 6.4 per cent of the country is covered by hedgerows, individual trees and small woodland patches and scrub, contributing hugely to wildlife in the countryside.

Under cross compliance for the single farm payment (SFP), hedgerows must be maintained and not allowed to become invasive. This is according to Catherine Keena, countryside management specialist at Teagasc.

Speaking to AgriLand this afternoon, she explained: “Hedgerows may not be cut after the end of February to prevent destroying birds’ nests. Under Cross Compliance, birds, their nests or eggs must not be deliberately disturbed at any time but particularly during the nesting season.”

In addition, she cautioned that it is is also an offence under the Wildlife Act to burn or otherwise destroy any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated from March 1 to August 31.

“It is a problem under cross compliance if there is evidence of the burning of growing vegetation on cultivated or on non-cultivated land including permanent pasture without the necessary approvals,” she said.

Keena also explained the current policy in places for farming crops for wildlife.

“After March 1 (REPS 4 and AEOS 1) or March 15 (AEOS 2 and AEOS 3), crops may be sprayed, cultivated or trampled with livestock to reduce the amount of brash.”

She said preparation was key as with any other crop.

“The undertaking is to produce a crop of seeds for birds – not leaving land aside. While sprays are not allowed after sowing the crop, spraying off with glyphosate between crops is essential.” She advices farmers to order seed now. “For the one-year mix linseed plus oats or triticale is the normal. Two year crops must include Kale plus linseed, oats or triticale and crops for wildlife must be sown by May 31,” she added.

In terms of traditional hay meadows in AEOS 1, 2 and 3, she is reminding farmers that they must be closed off for cutting by April 15 and may not be cut before July 1. “This does not apply to Corncrake habitats, she added, which have specific management requirements.