Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I take pleasure in introducing the Bill in the Seanad. The original Wildlife Act was enacted in 1976. For its time it was a comprehensive, and in some respects, a far-sighted legislative instrument for the conservation of wildlife. However, the Act is almost a quarter of a century old. It has been recognised for a number of years that certain provisions in the Act required updating. While updating of the Act was called for by numerous individuals, organisations and politicians who had an interest in wildlife and it was promised by a number of Administrations I take pride in the fact that I and the current Administration have delivered this long awaited Bill.

Whatever about different viewpoints on certain issues that have been expressed at each stage of its passage through the Dáil, there has been general support for the thrust of the Bill and I am confident that will also be the case in the Seanad. I also must acknowledge the interest and support of a number of conservation and other organisations for the legislation. From day one I was keen to ensure that any group or individual with an interest in the Bill should be able to make their views known. I have adopted an open door policy in this regard and I put an extensive consultation process in place prior to the finalisation of the draft Bill and this continued subsequently. That this consultative process was genuine is reflected in terms of the amendments I introduced on Committee Stage in the Dáil.

Naturally the Wildlife Act, 1976, approached wildlife conservation from the perspective and context applying at that time. This legislation caters for a number of key developments which constitute fundamental change in the approach adopted in Ireland to the conservation of the natural heritage.

The following are among the most important features of the Bill: the provision for the first time of a mechanism to give permanent statutory protection to natural heritage areas, including geological and geomorphological site; the broadening of the scope of the Act to include the majority of wild species; strengthening the controls over clearance of vegetation, particularly hedgerows; introduction of measures to facilitate the ratification of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES; providing statutory recognition of my responsibilities in the light of Ireland's commitment to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity; improvement of a number of measures to conserve wildlife species and their habitats; improvement in controls over hunting, including the regulation of commercial shoot operators; and the significant increase in penalties for convictions under the Acts, with the possibility for the first time of a custodial sentence.

I take this opportunity to explain these key features of the Bill in further detail. Perhaps most importantly the Bill will provide for the designation, conservation, and permanent protection of natural heritage areas, or NHAs. They are sites that support elements of our natural heritage that are unique or of outstanding importance at the national level. If destroyed, such areas can never be adequately replaced. Their conservation is required in the interest of the common good. A legal framework for their designation and conservation is long overdue and this Bill remedies that deficiency.

I indicated previously in the Dáil, and it is worth reiterating here, that I am revising fundamentally the protective regime that will apply to NHAs. Prior to my taking office the provisions then proposed in regard to NHAs could only guarantee what amounted to essentially temporary protection. I take considerable satisfaction from the fact that the provisions I am putting in place for NHAs will ensure their permanent protection.

The Bill provides for protection for NHAs in a fair and open manner and rules out any need for anxiety or fear among farmers or other landowners regarding the ownership of their land. Apart from the social, political, and practical undesirability and impossibility of guaranteeing protection for NHAs by compulsory purchase, it would be a wholly inappropriate approach to the conservation of biodiversity in the modern era. The notion that ecologically important sites should be protected through compulsory State purchase, thus essentially ring-fencing them and ruling out all other uses or activities in such areas, would be ill-advised. That would be a recipe to pit conservation and other interests in direct conflict and to bring about and perpetuate a divisive and damaging relationship.

Instead, I have brought in a system that guarantees the permanent protection of the ecological interests of NHAs. Works in NHAs will require the consent of the Minister and any activities which will cause significant damage can be prohibited permanently. I have also been able to dispense with the need compulsorily to purchase land to conserve wildlife by ensuring that the ecological interest of NHAs can be safeguarded through this mechanism. I considered that it was fair and proper to provide that compensation could be paid to landowners in cases where they suffered tangible losses resulting from NHA designation to balance the imposition of permanent restrictions on damaging operations.

Apart from constitutional considerations, it is right to compensate farmers or landowners or to provide them with financial incentives for maintaining or delivering biodiversity services. While some agricultural practices can damage wildlife, it must be underlined that many of the areas viewed as being of particular ecological importance were created by traditional agriculture. Appropriate agricultural practices must continue in order to maintain the biodiversity importance of these areas. Consequently it is not only fair, but also essential, to provide supports for sustainable agriculture in such areas, as we are doing already via REPS in NHAs.

I have always recognised that sustainable agriculture delivers wildlife benefits. I am glad that the EU now concurs with my thinking, as reflected in its embracing the concept of the "multifunctionality" of agriculture. This is the terminology coined to recognise and support the delivery by agriculture of biodiversity and environmental benefits.

The Bill also provides a legislative basis for the conservation of important sites of geological and geomorphological interest, such as the recently discovered Valentia Island footprints. These fossilised footprints are recognised as being of both national and international importance. Until now such sites were devoid of any legal mechanisms to provide for their conservation whether under wildlife or any other legislation. It is essential to provide mechanisms to legally designate and protect the most important elements of our national geological and geomorphological heritage. The legislation realises this goal.

In short the Bill provides permanent protection for a network of nationally important sites – natural heritage areas – in a fair and equitable manner, constituting a change of fundamental importance in the approach adopted in Ireland to the conservation of our natural heritage.

The second fundamental change which this legislation will bring about in our approach to wildlife conservation is the broadening of the scope of the Act to include the majority of wild species. The original Act excluded from its general scope all fish and aquatic invertebrate species. While this may have been understandable in 1976, it would be completely at variance with an appropriate set-up for today, when an ecosystem or holistic approach to biodiversity conservation is being pursued. The approach up to now in practical terms has meant that tens of thousands of species from both marine and freshwater ecosystems were strictly off limits from any conservation consideration.

The legislation brings all wild plant and animal species within the scope of the Act apart from certain species relevant to fisheries, whether commercial or recreational, which will be excluded by regulations. This broadening of the basis of wildlife legislation is of fundamental significance as it establishes a new and holistic framework within which wildlife conservation can be addressed and advanced.

I have brought forward a number of changes in section 46 which will strengthen the provisions of the principal Act in regard to the protection to hedgerows. Section 40 of the 1976 Act restricted the destruction of vegetation on uncultivated land during the main breeding and nesting season for birds.

Enhanced protection is being provided in section 46 for hedgerows during the nesting season in the following ways: by stating unambiguously that the section prohibiting the cutting of vegetation, etc., during the specified period applies to hedges; by extending significantly the period during which hedgerows and other vegetation may not be cut, that is from 1 March to 31 August; by limiting public bodies, including local authorities, to cutting hedgerows during this period to situations where reasons of public health and safety apply – this will ensure that routine maintenance cutting of hedgerows cannot take place during the nesting period; and by empowering the Minister, where indiscriminate or excessive hedge cutting appears to have taken place during the breeding season, to request details of such works from a local authority or other public body. The body concerned will have to supply such information to the Minister, together with an explanation of the public health and safety factors involved.

These amendments strengthen considerably the role of the Wildlife Acts in conserving hedgerows and I anticipate they will have a broader effect by encouraging a more positive approach to hedgerows and the need to conserve them. I intend to build on this momentum through my initiatives in regard to the national heritage plan and the national biodiversity plan.

I will now indicate some international issues that are reflected in the Bill. It will enable Ireland to ratify CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora. While Ireland signed the CITES convention as long ago as 1974, we have never brought in the full legislative provisions which would enable us to formally ratify the convention. Apart from the practical importance of our being able to implement CITES in every respect, it is politically important to ratify it. By joining with other member states of the European Union as a party to the convention, we will be underpinning the Union's political commitment to CITES. Ratification of the convention by Ireland will signal further political support for it at international level by underpinning and endorsing the continuing and ongoing significance of its importance as a key element of international environmental law.

The Bill will also enable Ireland to ratify the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds Agreement, an agreement under the Bonn Convention. The migratory waterbirds agreement is of special significance in the Irish context given that this country is of major importance for many groups of wintering waterbirds as well as for breeding populations of some relevant species.

While considering aspects of the Bill which reflect global developments, I draw Senators' attention to the provision in section 9 which provides that promoting the conservation of biological diversity shall now be part of the Minister's overall functions. The Convention on Biological Diversity is the defining framework within which the conservation of biological diversity must be pursued whether at international or national level. It is, therefore, appropriate and a reflection of this country's commitment to this landmark convention that specific reference to biological diversity is included as a responsibility of my Department in the country's primary legislative instrument for wildlife protection.

The Bill improves a number of measures or introduces new ones to enhance the conservation of wildlife species and their habitats. I will refer briefly to a selection of these. For example, with respect to plant species, the Bill provides that trade or possession without a licence of protected flora is an offence. Powers are also included to allow the Minister to make regulations to control the trade and collection of species of wild flora which are not protected.

As regards wild birds, the Bill further strengthens the protection afforded to bird species and their eggs or nests by removing exemptions for carrying out certain activities and making them subject to a licence from the Minister. Protection is provided for the resting places of protected animals, thereby ensuring, in particular, that bat roosts are not unlawfully disturbed. Through the deletion of the provision to enable the granting of otter hunting licences, the Bill copperfastens the strict protection afforded to otters.

The principal Act allows the capture or killing of wild birds or animals where they cause damage to property, crops etc. The Bill provides that such action is taken only in cases of serious damage. It also introduces the concept of scaring wild birds and wild animals, as against capture and killing, as a means of protecting property.

Provisions are included to allow the Minister to prohibit the introduction of any species of wild bird, animal or flora, which may be detrimental to native species. It will be an offence to introduce exotic species of flora and fauna into the wild other than under licence from the Minister. The Bill will also enable the Minister to prohibit the export of any wild species rather than limit it to protected species, as was the case heretofore.

While the most significant provisions relevant to conserving species habitats are those concerning NHAs, other measures are also included. The Bill contains a provision for the creation of refuges for flora to conserve sites of special importance for plant species.

The Bill will greatly enhance the existing controls under the principal Act in relation to hunting which are designed to serve the interests of conservation. In that regard, section 36 is of importance in that it will introduce provisions which will allow for the regulation of the business of commercial shoot operators. Such operators either own or have access to shooting rights on lands and use these rights of access to provide hunting on those lands to others, particularly non-resident hunters, on a commercial basis.

The core of this new section is that commercial shoot operators will only be allowed to carry out their activities if they are in possession of a permit issued by the Minister. In issuing a permit the Minister will be able to request a wide range of relevant information. In completing this section, I consulted fully all relevant parties and the system proposed will balance the relevant conservation requirements, the concern of resident hunters and the commercial needs of operators.

The Bill also introduces a number of other hunting-related measures designed to enhance the conservation of wildlife species. Senators may be aware that, by way of the Firearms (Firearm Certificates for Non-Residents) Bill, 2000, I, with my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, sponsored a number of amendments to section 29 of the Wildlife Act to improve the hunting licensing regime. Among the amendments the Bill makes are new provisions to allow me to require applicants for a hunting licence to show evidence of competence to hold such a licence, and the introduction of greater controls and restrictions on the use of such devices as traps, snares and nets and other night hunting devices such as image intensifying or heat seeking devices.

Section 68 will amend and substantially extend the penalties applicable in the case of a conviction under either the principal Act or the amending Act. Obviously, the financial penalties originally set in 1976 needed to be increased significantly. For example, a person convicted of what might be termed an ordinary offence under the 1976 Act would have been liable to a fine of up to £50. The amending legislation increases this potential fine for a first time offence to £500 and also provides for a term of imprisonment. There are also increases in respect of second or third offences under the graduated system of penalties. The maximum financial penalty in respect of a conviction of an ordinary offence under the Wildlife Acts will now be £1,500, whereas previously, under the principal Act, it was only £200.

For what might be termed more serious offences, the penalties proposed are obviously stiffer. The penalty for a summary conviction in respect of a more serious offence is now a fine of £1,500, and-or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months. The potential penalty for a conviction on indictment is a fine of up to £50,000 and-or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years. The maximum penalty for such a conviction for a similar offence under the 1976 Act was only £500 with no provision for a custodial sentence. For the first time, the Bill provides for a term of imprisonment on conviction of an offence. This, combined with the heavy financial deterrents being put in place, will serve to enhance greatly the protection and conservation of our important habitats and our wildlife generally.

Wildlife conservation and the environment have probably never had a higher profile or greater level of popular interest than they have today. At the same time, there has never been so much development throughout the country. The threats posed need to be managed in an imaginative way. This legislation achieves a balance that will help to ensure that our wildlife conservation objectives will not be regarded as an obstacle to improving our economic and infrastructural well-being. Rather, I hope that wildlife will be seen as an important part of our heritage worthy of conservation and protection at this time of great economic and infrastructural progress.

"Quality of life" is a phrase we hear used on a constant basis almost to the point of being regarded as a cliché. However, I do not consider it to be such. Our natural heritage has a key role to play in maintaining and improving our quality of life in these times when many people feel pressurised and stressed. It also has an economic benefit for us all in that it attracts huge numbers of visitors to our island every year as well as being a factor in enticing some industries to our shores.

We must seek to ensure our economic and natural heritage interests can move forward together in a mutually supportive way. The Bill aims to ensure the required framework for the protection of our natural heritage for current and future generations is in place. I look forward to hearing the contributions of Members.

I often wonder at the broad range of subjects the Minister's Department encompasses. On the last occasion the Minister was in the House we were discussing the Irish Film Board Bill. At that time we learned of the secret talents of Senator Tom Fitzgerald who played a part in making some of the more celebrated films of recent years. We wondered if his talents were being wasted in this House, but of course they never were. On the set of "Ryan's Daughter" we saw, on a bigger stage, the sort of talents we see here every day.

This is an important Bill which is good both in principle and in content. It is complex and technical and there are many questions which Members will wish to raise on Committee Stage. In today's debate, I will confine my comments to the central points of the Bill. I would not describe the Bill as rushed legislation. Sometimes we complain about legislation being foisted upon us at the end of a session without adequate time being allowed for proper consultation with various interest groups. It is almost 18 months since the Bill was published and a year since it was introduced to the Dáil. I have no complaints about that. As it now stands, the Bill has benefited from that period.

In the case of such a complex Bill it is often a good thing to leave time for consultation with various interest groups. I cannot fault the Minister about the consultation process because anyone who had a view on the legislation was allowed to express it. They were listened to and the Bill was changed considerably, and for the better, during its passage through the Lower House.

A great deal has happened since the principal Act became law in 1975. Although I was young at the time, I remember parts of that debate and the great jousting that took place in the Dáil between the late Deputy Noel Lemass and the late Deputy Henry Kenny. They managed to fill the pages of the Official Report with Latin phrases and exotic descriptions of wildlife. They both had a genuine grasp of the many issues involved, which led to a feeling of edification and wonderment on the part of many of their colleagues.

Now the principal Act is being updated. In looking at the new legislation the first worry one has is whether the Bill will be merely aspirational or whether full resources will be provided to make sure that the good things it seeks to provide for will be achieved. The Bill will be expensive and the measures it envisages will not be self-financing. They will require resources from the public purse to ensure that the Bill will accomplish its aims. In her reply, perhaps the Minister will say a few words about the level of resources which will be required and made available.

Reading the debate in the Lower House, in the early stages especially, a great deal of concern and emotion was expressed about sections 46 and 51. People felt the powers then included in the Bill would almost criminalise many farmers. Those sections, however, were changed during the course of the Dáil debates. Will the Minister also indicate in her reply the extent of the changes that were made to the original draft and the reasons for them?

It is worth rehearsing some of the main elements of that controversy here. These were the issues that aroused the greatest amount of correspondence from people around the country and there were a number of public meetings about them. There was a genuine fear that if these sections were implemented as originally construed, they would have made criminals out of ordinary people, although that was never the Minister's intention. Clearly, she has listened but I would be interested if she could expand on that point in her reply.

Quite a bit of the legislation is concerned with hedgerows. My colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Kenny – who is regarded by those of us who know him well as an expert on wildlife in its many forms – waxed lyrical on the importance of hedgerows, describing them as corridors of life. He provided detailed descriptions of the natural life in hedgerows. It is vital to protect hedgerows and their cutting needs to be done very carefully, both to protect the environment and the needs of farming. A balance must be struck but too often we have seen indiscriminate, almost brutal, cutting of hedgerows with vital parts being hacked away. It is done purely for the convenience of farmers or more often of the hedge cutters themselves who simply mow down what is in front of them without any sensitivity. All too often the cutting of hedgerows has amounted to a form of environmental savagery. The legislation seeks to regulate this matter.

The success of the legislation will depend in part upon how effective the implementation of this section proves to be in practice. I do not envy the task of local authorities in ensuring this is done in a proper manner. It will be easy enough to ensure that the dates prescribed in the Bill are adhered to and, thus, avoid hedge cutting in the nesting season. However, it will be more difficulty to regulate and monitor the quality of the cutting so that it does not cause environmental damage. The question of who will police this and how it will be done is an important one.

The regulations concerning hedge cutting are stronger in a number of neighbouring countries. To what extent will our regulations – which, I think, probably go far enough – be capable of being implemented? The last thing we want is more legislation which is unenforceable and largely ignored because, God knows, we have enough of that on our Statute Book. Local authorities need to be left in no doubt as to what is now expected of them – to ensure that hedge cutting is of high quality and does not take place outside the prescribed periods.

We have all lived through an extraordinary revolution in the history of the countryside. When we were young, most of us could view a countryside that had changed little from the time of our grandfathers and the patterns that existed then. Over the last 25 years or so the changes have been so fundamental and extraordinary that somebody returning after an absence of 20 or 25 years would not recognise the countryside. We have seen a huge growth in agricultural mechanisation, the use of fertilisers and the way in which land is treated. The legislation comes into being in this context.

The introduction of the REP scheme has provided an opportunity to preserve certain elements of a way of life. Farmers have been willing assistants in this process and are happy to be involved in the scheme. It is a source of income for them and provides an easier way of life in what has become a very competitive sector.

I welcome the section dealing with new regulations for operators of commercal shoots. In recent times we have all had direct or indirect experience of shooting tours, especially those organised from Italy and France. They involve grown men, armed with semi submachine guns in some cases, going out and shooting every living creature in sight, small birds etc., for no good reason. They are not going to eat the birds. The birds, for the most part, do not harm anyone, yet there is indiscriminate killing. This is wrong and is totally foreign to the traditions here. I hope the regulations dealing with these operators will be very strictly enforced.

The penalties in this Bill are adequate. The Minister has struck a good balance between penalties. The first penalty is a warning but subsequent penalties will bite. She is right to include the possibility of imprisonment for, I presume, persistent breaches of the regulations. People must realise that the law is the law and that they have a responsibility not to behave in an anti-social way. Often the only way this message can be brought home is with the possibility of jail.

The use of illegal drugs in cattle is an example of this. It was only when a number of farmers went to jail and were made serve their sentences that the fear of God was struck into people involved in this crime. We saw some real results. Likewise in the area of tax evasion. The persistent offender who feels that he or she is above the law must be given a short, sharp lesson. I am happy with the provisions made.

I would like the Minister, and I know it is not part of her brief, to talk about the wider generic issues which arose in the controversy over Pollardstown Fen, County Kildare. This is a classic case of much needed infrastructural development meeting a small group with a very legitimate interest and a strong case for the preservation of a particular part of our natural heritage. This type of case will be repeated continually. We need mechanisms in place to deal quickly with cases like it. If an area is so important that a roadway must never be built on it then we must ensure a decision is taken quickly and other plans put in place. If it is possible to resolve the issue, then it should be done in a way that does not hold up a much needed development for a very long period.

This Bill cries out to be accompanied by a major information campaign. People will not read or hear about much that is contained in it unless the Department takes it on itself to provide information through handouts, packages, videos and public meetings. It must ensure that people are fully aware of what is in this Bill.

We live in an age of very complex directives, statutory instruments and European legislation. Very often it is in language that is difficult to understand. The key issues involved here are very straightforward. They are important and relevant to people, not just to those who live in the country but people in the cities who love the country. I hope the Minister will engage a good public relations firm, or members of her own Department who are very good at getting the message across, to disseminate the main contents of this Bill in a way which is easily understandable and will prevent people from pleading ignorance when they are found to be in breach of the legislation.

Various types of problems can arise. Recently we talked about foxes. I live in the heart of Dublin 4, although I hope my outlook has been more conditioned by growing up in Carlow, attending school in Tipperary and spending a lot of my time outside Dublin. The term ‘Dublin 4' is a very handy sobriquet for people who wish to describe a certain way of life and mindset. I hope I stand somewhat outside that.

Recently foxes have become a part of our way of life in Dublin 4. Domestic foxes are coming into the area because they are hungry and searching for food. Recently a vacant site beside where I live was sold. The builder came from the west and there was a meeting of two cultures, Dublin 4 and the west. Over the entire summer the site was home to a family of foxes. The previous lady owner had a slightly more benign view than I had of them. Her site was derelict but my garden is not. They caused some damage but we still managed to co-exist very nicely. The foxes had almost become pets to her and she regularly fed them. The new owner paid a lot of money for the site and wanted to build a house on it. He told me the only contentious issue in the entire sale was the future of the foxes. He assured the good lady that he would consult the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the veterinarian college in Ballsbridge. He also said he would ensure that the foxes were relocated in the most humane way possible. All this was done.

On the day the foxes were due to be relocated a JCB moved in. The JCB operator had not been told about the foxes. As a result of this the foxes ran wild all over my garden and along the laneway. The lady was quite disturbed by it all. She talked to the contractor, who assured her that there were vets and ISPCA people around and the foxes would be looked after. He advised her to go off and have a cup of tea.

A labourer working with the contractor was a small farmer. He had a less benign view of foxes because they tended to kill his sheep. He viewed foxes in one light. He had not been told that the foxes would be protected. As the contractor was doing his best to assure the lady that all would be well the labourer arrived and said: "Ma'am, I hate them ... foxes. I'll kill them fellas for you." Then he grabbed his shovel and threw it at the fox. This was a clash between two cultures. Dublin 4 viewed the fox as a nice domestic animal while the west and a small farmer viewed it in a very different way. There is often a clash of two cultures when we examine wildlife matters.

This is a major Bill and I support its principles. I would like the Minister to be given enough resources to implement it. I would not like to see this Bill go through a long process in this and the other House and end up being just another Act on the Statute Book. It is important legislation. The degree of consultation is a credit to the Minister and her officials. The debate in the other House was very positive. I hope that when this Bill leaves these Houses it will make a very sig nificant contribution and fulfil the purpose for which it was intended.

Like my colleague, Senator Manning, I welcome the Minister to the House. I endorse much that he said about the work and consultation on this legislation. It has been a measure of this Minister's brief, since she took over in 1997, that she has indulged in a wide degree of consultation when introducing legislative initiatives. This is the way it should be but it does not always happen. I compliment the Minister on adopting such a philosophy and I hope she will continue to do this. Perhaps it will permeate other Departments of State when legislation is being put forward.

It was vital to have a consultation process because, as the Minister has emphasised, it is a fundamental change in legislation that dates back to 1975. Since then a lot has changed in the world, particularly in Ireland. I am sure the Minister found out that positions have hardened as a result of encroaching developments. She had most difficulty with heritage designation because farmers felt threatened by modernisation and the weight of legislation. Someone made the point that the farming community was brought kicking and screaming into the latter part of the 20th century. Perhaps that is an unfair observation, especially coming as I do from west of the Shannon where – the Minister will relate to this – people have not always lived in the best of circumstances.

I cannot help reflecting on the comments of Senator Manning who referred to Deputy Kenny's knowledge of hedgerows. The Deputy's county man, Mr. John Healy, referred to people like us in the west as living in the snipe grass and said that we would be very close to nature and, therefore, have a greater appreciation of the birds and the bees, the flora and the fauna, and the animals which inhabit our hedgerows and fields.

The consultation process has brought us to this point. As a result, the Bill has had a very interesting but non-controversial passage through the other House. I anticipate that the Minister will be faced with a similar end view in this House. It is a compliment to her and her officials that they have managed to frame important legislation to change and update the principal Act. This is not always the easiest thing to do, because there are entrenched attitudes and people have got used to particular legislation and now find that there will be further restrictions and a widening of the categories to which the amending legislation will apply.

It is obvious that the Bill has come into being because we are enjoying development and economic growth at an unprecedented level, a matter on which the Minister touched. Hardly a week goes by without one hearing about yet another discovery of an artefact as a result of motorway or housing development on land which had lain fallow and on which wildlife habitats had never been threatened. There is a reference to the Valentia footprints which had lain undisturbed for thousands of years. All this is being churned out as a result of the massive growth of the economy. This trend will continue over the next ten to 15 years under the national development plan under which we will literally have motorways criss-crossing the country. Time and again the Minister will have to intervene to ensure the Bill is strictly adhered to and the law is brought to bear on those who might be tempted to ignore its provisions.

Although it is not a matter on which one can dwell or have a major debate, does the Minister have a view on how the Bill will impact on the widespread development proposed over the period of the national development land, under which large tracts of land will be changed beyond all recognition? As the Minister is aware, there is a unique species of snail in County Kildare. It is quite possible that there are many other species waiting to be threatened.

It is a question of balance, a word frequently used in the legislation. The drive towards ensuring our future prosperity as a nation has to be tempered by the reality that we cannot destroy our heritage simply in the interests of progress. It requires a fine balancing act. One extreme would have been represented by the eco-warriors in County Wicklow. While I agreed in principle with what they were attempting to do, I certainly did not agree with their actions. Although the local authority and Departments had made it quite clear that what was involved amounted to relocation of shrubbery and trees, rather than desecration, the issue became a philosophical argument.

At the other extreme are those involved in business and industry who are pressurising the Minister's Department and the Government generally to advance development. They argue that if we do not provide for better infrastructure and greater access for which there is a need, our economic success will be threatened. The Minister is caught in the middle in trying to balance the equation. As a result, she is now the guarantor of legislation of this nature and the final arbiter. In a sense, her Department will have to speak through this legislation for the flora and the fauna, fish species, birds and hedgerows.

It needs to be emphasised time and again – Senator Manning also made this point – that it is all very well to have legislation in place, but enforcement is the key. It is important that the Minister reiterates her very firm commitment, having steered the legislation through both Houses, to monitor its usage and ensure all those charged with the responsibility of discharging its various elements will do so and that if they do not, the full force of the law will be brought to bear on them.

The designation of heritage and environmental areas was controversial. I am pleased the Minister has indicated that there will be no compulsory purchase by the State to ensure the areas con cerned will be protected. While we have a number of national parks, including Glenveagh in County Donegal and Killarney in County Kerry, relative to the rest of Europe and the world, Canada in particular, we do not have a large number of designated parks where flora and fauna can flourish in the natural order. Perhaps this is outside its scope, but will the Bill permit the Minister to acquire land or is it the case, as happened in the case of County Donegal, that a donation will have to be made by a private individual in bequeathing property to the State? Will the State be in a position to acquire land which it believes is under threat, rather than wait for it to be bequeathed? The Minister indicated that she is not providing for compulsory purchase, but there may be occasions on which it will be necessary to acquire land.

Although it does not come directly within the scope of the Bill, as the Minister is aware, with a number of Deputies and Senators from Cork, I have been corresponding with her on the question of the historical site at Dunboy, Castletownbere, from where my wife comes and in which, after Leitrim, I would have more than a passing interest. Historically, Leitrim and Castletownbere are inextricably linked because of the march of O'Sullivan-Bere following the battle of Kinsale. I have a lifelong interest in the historical era in question.

I continue to be disappointed that Dunboy Castle is being neglected. There does not seem to be any great desire on the part of whoever is responsible – it has been sold – to upgrade it. The Minister recently published a list of historical sites and announced an initiative under which urgently needed finance will be spent to improve, update and enhance access to various sites. I would like to think that she will seriously consider taking the Dunboy site under her wing. It should be remembered that it is the most significant event in our history, the fall of the old Gaelic tradition. The battle of Kinsale in 1603 heralded the end of all that was Gaelic, Irish and free. We are living with the consequences today.

Not only from an historical perspective but also from an educational perspective, the significance of Dunboy should have a far greater place in our national heritage than it obviously has. It is attached to an estate taken over by the Puxley family who left the area in the early 1920s. The house was burned down by the IRA. It was a beautiful house which is now in a state of dereliction. Those who took it over had absolutely no interest in it. It boasted one of the most impressive gardens in all Europe. That has also fallen fallow. One would need a great imagination to understand the magnificence of the garden in its prime.

I thought the State might have intervened and bought Dunboy. Local people would like a leisure complex or hotel to be developed there because they would like more jobs. In fairness to the people of Castletownbere, who are isolated in west Cork, tourism related jobs seem the way forward, in much the same way as we in Leitrim regard tourism as a major contributor to our local economy. We will never be an industrial county, nor will west Cork, which most people would not want it to be because of its natural beauty.

I do not want to labour the point or sound unfair because this is not directly part of the Minister's brief. However, Castletownbere in west Cork is very far from the centre of things. In my discussions with local people, they seem to feel that even Cork city is remote from them, never mind the centre of power in Dublin.

Legislation has been enacted which obliges local authorities to ensure that monuments which are outside the scope of the national monuments legislation are not obliterated. The Department has given them money to ensure national monuments are maintained. Despite that, it would be educational and a general plus for the community if there was some intervention by the State to ensure proper access onto the site.

The Minister mentioned that fish species were not included in the 1976 Act, which is rather interesting. She indicated that perhaps it was the view at the time that there was no need for it. I assume it was not envisaged by the framers of the original Act that fish species would come under threat to such a degree. It is extraordinary what has happened off our shores in the past 20 years. Our fish stocks have been depleted to such an alarming degree that even well known fish species, such as cod and plaice, are under severe threat. Worldwide, fish species are under tremendous threat. Attempts are being made in international fora, at which the Minister's Department represents us, to legislate to ensure stocks are not further depleted. I welcome this.

How is it envisaged this section will be enforced? How will the Minister ensure that threatened fish species will not become extinct and that the passage of this Bill will at least arrest, if not eliminate, the possibility of some of the more important fish species being lost to civilisation? That is vitally important.

As an island nation, we have a strangely ambivalent attitude towards fish. We are big meat eaters but are not traditionally very good fish eaters, which is rather strange for an island nation. As the Minister is aware, in our negotiations for accession to the then European Community in 1972, the main emphasis was on agriculture, not on fisheries. Some would suggest we sold out on fisheries, that to protect our agricultural industry we allowed ourselves to be sold the pass on fish negotiations as a type of unofficial quid pro quo. We and the Minister are now reaping the legacy of that. Successive Ministers over the past decade, in particular, have tried to row back on that as fish stocks in our seas have become more and more threatened. We should have taken a better attitude then, but that was then and this is now and the Minister has to deal with the consequences.

As a member of a local authority, I take a slightly different view from Senator Manning on the obligations on local authorities in regard to hedgerows. I do not fundamentally disagree with the principle enshrined in the Bill nor with Senator Manning's view, but I would diverge slightly from it.

As Members of the House who have been members of local authorities will know, over the past 20 years there has been severe criticism of the lack of Government finance for maintenance of local or county roads, as distinct from regional or national primary and secondary roads. The vast majority of the Irish road network is county roads. Many of them meander through rural areas and are an important link between small communities. I am talking here about the west, from the north to Kerry.

As a result of overgrown hedgerows and poor drainage by some farmers, the condition of county roads deteriorated, in many cases to the point where they were being destabilised. The little sunshine we get in this country was not getting through because hedgerows were too high and the drainage problem was exacerbated by the erosion of the soil which underpinned most county roads. As the Minister will know, our county roads were not built on solid foundations but wherever they meandered. A colleague told me the reason there were so many twists and turns on county roads was that these tracks were originally created by horses who were given their head and went in a curved rather than a straight line. As the road network developed in this country in the last century, it followed the original tracks. That is one suggested reason for the number of winding boreens we have.

The situation has been improved significantly, primarily because of the REP scheme, which has been a wonderful innovation. However, some local authorities do not always carry out proper cutting and trimming of hedges, which results in demands being made on the Department of the Environment and Local Government for more money to improve the roads. There must be a balance between the obligations on local authorities to cut hedgerows and improve roads.

Will the Minister consider, in consultation with the Department of Education and Science, the need for a further educational process for the new generation of school children? I remember my father, God rest him, telling me that when he went to school in the 1930s and 1940s the examination of flora and fauna was a very important aspect of primary school life. They learned a great deal about flora and fauna. That aspect of education now seems to depend very much on the individual teacher. Perhaps the Minister might see some merit in discussing with her colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, having some element of this in the curriculum, although it may already be there.

In regard to penalties, will the Minister consider that judges would impose community service on those who desecrate our environment? Apart from financial and custodial penalties, would it not be appropriate to put such people back into the environment they attempted to destroy, in much the same way community service operates in the cities and towns, where young people, in particular, are sometimes given three months community service instead of a custodial sentence? That might be worth looking at.

Will the Minister also consider talking to An Post about issuing another series of stamps that would portray our wonderful flora and fauna to the world? There is a precedent for this and it could be done in the context of the passing of this Bill and the signing of the international conventions to which the Minister referred. An Post is always looking for ideas for new stamps. I commend the Bill to the House.

This gives me the opportunity to acknowledge the changeover of Ministers in the Chamber – plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. One distinguished member of the de Valera clan is replacing another.

Before the Minister has to leave, I should point out that the recent provision of a large allocation of money to protect our heritage was most welcome. Everybody who is concerned with this issue is grateful that this battle has been won thanks to the Minister's considerable energies.

This legislation affects and interests many more people than one might imagine. I was surprised in the last couple of months to hear Deputy Deasy speaking on this subject on the radio. He had rung a programme and spoke passionately on this subject. I had not attributed this type of sensitivity to the rural environment to Deputy Deasy and I was taken with the fact that he knew so much about it and was prepared to talk in such passionate terms.

The areas covered by the Bill are significant and they attempt to cope with the changes in the way our countryside is treated. One of the most significant elements is the hedgerows. I recall visiting an uncle of mine in England 30 years ago and witnessing what was happening there. At the time there was wholesale levelling of hedgerows and the replacement of small fields in the agricultural community with enormous potato ranches. That made considerable sums of money for the syndicates involved but did not reflect the traditional rural life associated with the part of the country I was visiting. This type of destruction can have a significant effect on the wildlife, both in terms of habitats and the number of species that inhabit hedgerows.

There was an excellent programme by David Attenborough on television last night. It was slightly apocalyptic but it dealt with the impact of these changes. He deliberately made the point that he was not concerned merely with the elimination of enormous tracts of rainforest but with the effect of this type of clearance on small species in Europe, England and Ireland. The Minister referred to the control of shooting and hunting. There must be careful controls and not merely on our own sports people. In recent years there has been an influx of continental people to our shooting grounds and they indiscriminately blast everything they can out of the sky. It is difficult to deal with them subsequently because they return to Italy, Germany and other countries. That practice must be examined.

The Minister also referred to hunting. There is a big debate about this on our sister island. The spectacle of fox hunting is most attractive, although not for the fox. However, we must do something to root out the horrible practice of live hare coursing. There is simply no justification for it if we are concerned about the welfare of small animals. I believe it is bad for the moral welfare of the people who watch the sport. No decent person should take pleasure from the hunting to death of a small, frightened animal. I agree with Senator Mooney about education – it is an important element in encouraging people to respect wildlife.

This Bill amends the 1976 Act, so it is almost 25 years since this matter was substantially addressed. It will probably be another 25 years before we return to the subject so it is important that we get this legislation right. There has been a general welcome for the Bill and I echo it. On the other hand some provisions can be strengthened. I have been briefed in this regard by the Irish Wildlife Trust and I salute its work in this area over the years. The trust regards the Bill as important and generally positive legislation. It covers a wide range of areas but there are some aspects which I and the trust would like clarified and strengthened.

The first is the protection of natural heritage areas. These are national wildlife designations which, unlike the special areas of conservation, do not stem from European Union legislation. Most of the NHAs replace the old areas of scientific interest, the legal protection of which was deemed unconstitutional in the celebrated Roundstone Bog case. They include the best wildlife habitats in the country and it is vital that their protection has full legal backing. There are approximately 1,200 such areas and they constitute 7% of the land mass. My briefing gives a detailed parsing and analysis of the Bill but I will not put that on the record because it would be a case of teaching one's grandmother to suck eggs.

I will turn instead to the general ethos of the Bill. It is most welcome because it indicates that wildlife conservation is being treated as an integral part of the living landscape. However, the NHA is only partly protected from the time of notification. This is a most important point. The protection also relies heavily on court injunctions. These are time consuming, expensive and rather difficult to operate successfully. I have reser vations about that. They do not cover the period from notification to implementation as efficiently as they might.

There is also the question of public participation. Under the Bill, there is no provision for anybody except the landowner or the Minister to get involved in the decision making process. It is important that a body should be created – the Irish Wildlife Trust suggest An Bord Dúchais – as an independent board which would have responsibility for determining appeals regarding site designation. It should not simply be an advisory body where the members only have the right to take part in the political process rather it should have real decision making powers.

There is also the issue of site restoration. The provisions in this regard in the Bill are welcome but they could be strengthened. Restoration is a sensitive subject. The analogy drawn by my friends in the Irish Wildlife Trust is with the way restoration is handled in the built environment. The classic case is Archer's Garage. It was demolished but the people who committed this offence were required to reinstate the garage as it had been. It is immensely more difficult to do that with in the complex matter of restoring an area of natural habitats. We have to accept that it is not the same as trying to restore the built environment.

The Irish Wildlife Trust asks that the obligation to restore land within an NHA should also apply to sites which have been damaged prior to designation. Perhaps the Minister will comment on this. It is a worthy objective but I am not sure it is possible to implement. It appears to introduce a retrospective principle and I am not sure that can be done. The trust is on stronger ground when it argues that the compensation payable to landowners should only be payable where the landowner agrees to a conservation management plan for the site. That is perfectly reasonable. If somebody is going to damage the natural environment and they are given compensation to stop them doing it, we should be able to insist that this is done.

I have already referred to the hedgerows. Cutting is now prohibited from 1 April to 31 August but agriculture and forestry related activities, which result in the destruction of vegetation growing in a ditch or hedgerow, still remain exempt. This gives wide latitude to local authorities to do damage and, given the pressure on them to create road networks as we saw in the case of the Pollardstown Fen, it might be difficult to resist. Restrictions also do not apply to the clearance of vegetation in the course of road and other construction works or the development and preparation of sites. They should be covered.

The hedgerows are vital wildlife habitats for nesting birds and act as migrating corridors due to the loss of most of our deciduous forests. That was a tragedy. Some of the last of our deciduous forest in Wicklow, Coolattin Forest, was destroyed simply for commercial profit. We have witnessed this over the past 30 to 40 years.

There is also the question of badgers. They have been the villains of rural life for a very long time on flimsy scientific evidence. Badgers are one of those species that have been snared in the past. Snaring is always a vicious and cruel method of controlling wildlife, yet there are still exceptions and exemptions to the legislation governing snaring. Ministerial approval to snare protected species could be granted provided the appropriate licence was sought and an approved method was used. What is an "approved method"? Are there degrees of cruelty and should we approve of any of them? I do not think so. Animal species which are not protected are excluded from being protected from snaring. It is not unlawful to use snares under licence for what is described as being for the purpose of improving the quality of such species.

Will that cover badgers? Will we find this will be the loophole used to continue the attack on the badger population? They have been accused of being implicated in the spread of bovine TB. The ongoing TB eradication programme has so far cost the lives of 25,000 badgers, approximately 86% of which were TB free. There is a question about use of snaring for species such as badgers.

Bats are not the favourite form of wildlife for many people and sometimes they are the subject of ridicule and jokes, but they are an important feature of our wildlife. There are some questions in this regard relating to the Bill that should be asked. For example, bats are particularly vulnerable in old buildings when there is timber treatment for bug infestation, dry rot and so on. We need to consider what provisions we are making in the legislation to protect bat roosts from the use of chemicals, otherwise we will lose more species.

I have been asked to raise a number of questions with the Minister, on which the advisers might have a view. What solution has the Minister and her officials come up with to remedy the lack of protection of natural heritage areas from the time of nomination to official designation? That lies behind what I said earlier. There are many sites throughout Ireland that have had proposed natural heritage area status for years, which has left them in a precarious state of conservation. With current pressures of development on land, surely the Minister considers the lack of protection afforded to PNHAs under the Wildlife Act a matter of much urgency.

With regard to hedgerows, in relation to section 40(3) of the principal Act, the Wildlife Trust considers this should be amended by the addition of an amendment following subsection 3, which I will table, to the effect that the Minister may request from the local authorities concerned records of works carried out in relation to the management of hedgerows with a statement of the public health or safety factors involved. The need for this amendment is due to the lack of accountability of some local authorities regarding the management of their roadside hedgerows. No local authority has ever prosecuted a landlord or has been prosecuted for the cutting of hedgerows during the nesting season, an offence under the Wildlife Act, 1976. That is a significant point. If there are penalties and provisions in place that have not been acted upon, they are simply ink upon paper and have no specific impact upon the subject they propose or purport to address. This is despite the evidence of such transgressions taking place around the countryside. Everybody has witnessed them during the nesting season. The point of the amendment is that many local authorities do not keep records of hedgerow management procedures. No local authority has a hedgerow policy. This is a reproach to our friends throughout the House.

That is not true.

It is not true. Splendid. I hope the Senator will put that on the record.

I was told that no local authority has a hedgerow policy and I hope my colleague will be specific and say which council has, what precisely it is and where it can be consulted by the public. That would be of great benefit and, if nothing else, this debate will have drawn this information into the public arena. This Bill does not have sufficient jurisdiction to call for the setting up of records within the local authorities. With regard to the natural heritage plan, in what way does that create specific superior protections for hedgerows?

I hope to table a number of amendments on various issues. I will briefly put down bullet points regarding them. First, conservation organisations should be statutorily designed to be consulted with regard to NHA designation. I will give only the heads of these amendments, as this submission has been made to the Minister, but the principles should be put on the record, not just left as a private discussion document between the Wildlife Trust and the Minister. Second, other parties should be able to propose sites. I have made some of that argument in the body of my speech, but I am just putting down that bullet point. Third, Dúchas should have a right of veto over all developments within NHAs, irrespective of whether they are covered by the plan, and the definition of work should be changed to incorporate this. Fourth, sites should be fully protected between notification and designation. I have made the arguments for this in what I said in the principal part of my speech. Fifth, permission by the board to carry out works on a site should not arise.

Sixth, an independent opinions board should be established. Seventh, the obligation to restore land in an NHA should also apply to land in an NHA that was damaged while the land was the subject of a section 16 notice. Eighth, compensation payable for refusal of consent to carry out works should be payable only where the landowner agrees to a management plan for the site – I have made that argument. Ninth, the Minister should have to go through the proper system to seek permission to construct buildings on lands within the Department's control. Tenth, amending or revoking an NHA order should be part of the remit of An Bord Dúchas or at least be subject to an appeal to it.

Eleventh, there should be an obligation on the Minister to assess the possibility of site rehabilitation before a decision is made to amend or revoke an order. Twelfth, if a site has lost its scientific value because of damaging activities on the part of the landowner or occupier, the owner should forfeit rights to apply for grants in relation to land use, in other words, if they show themselves to be persons unfit. It would be deeply ironic if having destroyed part of our natural heritage, they went on to claim grants and compensation, and that is what we have seen happen. People are unscrupulous in these areas, particularly where money is concerned. Thirteenth, it should be an offence to damage an NHA or a proposed NHA. Fourteenth, compensation paid to landowners should be recoverable if the landowner fails to comply with the management plan. Fifteenth, profits gained through illegal works on the land should be recoverable by the Criminal Assets Bureau. If it is a criminal act, why not?

Sixteenth, any grants, in particular REPS, should be forfeited for non-compliance with the legislation. Seventeenth, compulsory purchase of land should be legislated for. Eighteenth, it should be compulsory to register land within an NHA with the Land Registry office. Nineteenth, Dúchas should have a prosecution section with at least four staff, including a solicitor. That is practical advice.

There are penalties in place and we can demonstrate that they have not been used under previous legislation, one of the reasons probably being a lack of professional staff. The provision of this limited number of staff would give greater teeth to the legislation. I am sure the Minister knows as well as I do that Dúchas needs more personnel such as wildlife rangers and scientific staff to secure the implementation of this legislation.

This Bill is very welcome. There is no question it is an improvement. We are moving in the right direction and, with detailed advice from concerned organisations, perhaps we can make the legislation stronger.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and the opportunity to speak on this legislation, which is extraordinarily important. It has been in the embryonic stage for many years, but it is now before us. The Minister and her officials must be complimented on bringing forward this work. As an old colleague of mine used to say many years ago, "a job well done". That is exactly what it is.

The Minister is to be complimented on her approach to consultation in drawing up this legislation. There are many groups and individuals with a great interest in wildlife and our natural heritage and the Minister's open door policy with this legislation is to be commended. I do not doubt that the Minister is open to suggestions, as she showed in the Dáil. That is how we arrive at good legislation.

This is an extraordinarily complex Bill, covering a vast subject area. I welcome particularly the inclusion of geological and geomorphological sites among natural heritage areas, which is very important. We have eaten into certain features of our landscape for many years with no consideration for what we are doing. We are fortunate in Ireland to have particularly good sand dunes in certain areas and to have the drumlin belt across the country. We have the eskers running up from County Waterford, through counties Kilkenny and Laoighis and into County Offaly and we also have caves and bogs. However, we tend to forget the canals. We do not have extensive canals but those we have are very important both for our national heritage and for the preservation of wildlife. Changes in lifestyle mean people have more leisure time for walking, for example, and the canals are very important for the development of tourism.

The eskers have been seen as ripe pickings for sand and gravel for the building industry. There will always be a need to balance the requirements of society and the maintenance of our landscape and wildlife but we can strike that balance. We cannot say simply that people cannot take sand from the eskers because that sand is needed – where will it come from otherwise? Extracting that sand without damaging the eskers is the important issue.

The Minister has improved the provisions relating to hedgerows with this Bill but I am still concerned. Our hedgerows are some of our most important wildlife corridors and changes in agriculture and the road building proposed by the national plan mean we must think clearly about this matter. The particular route a road is to take will obviously affect hedgerows and we must identify the hedgerows that are important as wildlife corridors. For example, foxes nest in one area and tend to feed a good distance away. In order to feed their young they must move away and if we cut their corridor it is the end for the foxes. We will have to be careful to identify wildlife travel routes to deal with this sensitively.

Over the past 30 years hedgerows have been decimated and I often wonder about the benefits of that. One can see the benefits if mechanised farming is involved but there is also a downside which people now recognise. This is an advantage of the REP scheme, where there is a greater understanding of the role of hedgerows in agriculture.

The Minister has improved the cutting arrangements for hedgerows by moving the cut-off point to 1 March. However, if seasons are different, with variations in growth and temperatures, a date is not important. It is important to prevent damage during the nesting period and if nesting starts early because of a warm spring and the flail hedge cutters move in during mid-Februray enormous damage will be done. That may not be the case in another year as nesting may start three or four weeks later. There needs to be greater consideration of the seasons and some allowances must be made. Including that in legislation would be very difficult but if it is possible we should do so. The objective is to protect wildlife.

The role of local authorities in cutting hedgerows concerns me greatly – we all know cases of local authorities cutting back hedges along the roads during the summer. Sometimes there are safety grounds for it but I am concerned that in other cases it will be done anyway and an argument about visibility around a bend will be an excuse for cutting at that time rather than when it should be done. We should be stricter on this at local authority level.

I abhor the flail hedge cutter. It cuts the hedge to a particular size and keeps it under control but it does nothing for the biodiversity within the hedge. One gets the stronger species in the hedgerow becoming dominant. There is no attempt to retain the biodiversity in the hedgerow's plant life and if one does not have that one will not have the same animal life. There should be a greater emphasis on the old skill of laying hedges. It cannot be done everywhere and it is a time-consuming and skilled operation, but we had that skill in the past and we are now losing it rapidly. We need to encourage its development at farm level, even if it is only within the REP scheme.

It is correct to acknowledge the role played by farmers in the formation of the landscape. The farmer has had a profound effect on forming today's landscape. In most instances it has been for the better but with the intensification of agriculture over the last 30 or so years that has changed enormously. I referred to the removal of hedgerows but dykes and drains have also been filled in to aid mechanisation and intensification in agriculture.

I am not suggesting we should go back to the methods of farming used 50 years because that will not happen, but we need to be more aware of the consequences of what we are doing in intensive agriculture. I refer particularly to the use of herbicides, pesticides, insecticides and fungicides on crops. In some cases, these chemicals are being used indiscriminately. The effect of controlling a pest in a crop is that the pest's natural predator does not have its food source. Consequently, the population of that predator reduces, the whole ecosystem changes and there is a new equilibrium.

I want to mention the catastrophic effects in this country and elsewhere of the use of DDT in the past. All of us, whether we realise it, carry DDT in our bone marrow as a result of the use of that chemical, which does not biodegrade. We have to be very careful in our use of chemicals. I abhor the use of chemicals in agriculture, although I realise that there are instances where they have to be used, but we should put more emphasis on biological control of pests and diseases in crops and more money should be invested in the research of that particular aspect.

In regard to the TB scheme, which has been in place for many years, there has been indiscriminate snaring and elimination of badgers in areas because they are associated with the spread of TB. I understand in the region of 25,000 or 30,000 badgers have been eliminated in this way over recent years but if my memory serves me correctly, approximately 85% of those badgers did not show any traces of TB. That does not necessarily mean they are not carrying the disease but we need to invest more money in that area to determine the relationship between badgers and TB before we indiscriminately eliminate the badger. There was a similar situation 100 years ago with the golden eagle. That species was eliminated and the farming community played a significant part in that because it was felt at the time that the golden eagle preyed on young lambs, which is not the case. That species was eliminated through ignorance. We need to obtain more information and think about what we are doing.

It is generally acknowledged that we do not have enough woodlands, particularly broadleaf woodlands, but I am greatly concerned about one aspect of the planting of trees. If a farmer wants to plant his farm in trees, he has to plant over a particular area before an environmental impact statement is required but if a group of farmers decide to plant 3,000 or 4,000 acres, they can plant 200 or 250 acres before an environmental impact statement is required so they plant them in 200 or 250 acre blocks. Effectively, they get what they want without having to carry out an environmental impact statement. Coillte's role in the location of some of our plantations leaves a lot to be desired because these woodlands have a profound effect on the landscape. We need to put more thought into the location of these woodlands rather than simply planting trees in whatever land is available.

I accept that the need for a national landscape policy may not come directly under the Minister's brief but it is related to this legislation. I compliment the work the former Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, did in this area in the past. It is something we need to take seriously. We have to come forward with an overall approach to our planning in terms of the way man will integrate with ecosystems. How will we protect not just the environment but the whole landscape of the country, which is changing and will continue to change? We are currently looking at wind energy as a source of green energy for the future, but where will these wind farms be located? Will they be located on the sides of hills? If we have a national landscape policy, we can deal with these issues and we can position wind farms properly if we go about it the right way. If we deal with it on an ad hoc basis, however, we will ruin the countryside.

Another feature that has to be taken into consideration is the whole area of wildlife and landscape in urban areas. We tend to only think in terms of the rural areas but in planning our urban areas, we need to have more green lungs. In the past we tended to infill these green areas. Our waterways were used as sewers and undesirable activities took place in our public parks, yet these are the green lungs that will purify the air for us if we have enough trees in our towns and cities. What are we doing about that? We are doing very little about it because we do not have a national landscape policy. I realise the Minister has just come into the House but I plead with her to work closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to introduce a national landscape policy, which is vitally important for planning in the future.

I wish to share time with Senator Quinn.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach


I welcome the Minister to the House. I welcome the Bill because it is good legislation which will place controls in a number of areas. Senator Norris said that local authorities did not have plans in place in relation to the cutting of hedgerows but I want to inform him and the Minister that it has long been the practice of Mayo County Council not to cut hedges during the nesting season. That practice has been in place for the past 20 or 30 years and I compliment the councillors who put it in place at the time. They were far-sighted people. They controlled the times at which the hedges and hedgerows could be cut in the county, and rightly so. I compliment the Minister on giving legislative effect to this area because, as some speakers said, the hedgerows are where much of our wildlife activity takes place.

As Senator Norris said, the Minister made a decision on a commercial basis to exclude forestry, road building, construction, etc. from being subject to the controls relating to the cutting of hedges. I accept the reasoning behind this, particularly in view of the fact that major road projects, housing schemes or forestry activities might be delayed during the autumn and winter.

In my opinion similar provisions should apply to farmers. Those involved in farming who are now being paid through REPS had to fight every step of the way to obtain compensation. I refer here to people on whose land NHAs and wildlife protection orders were imposed. In the past 12 months a deputation of farmers from east Galway and those whose lands border the Shannon appeared before a committee of the House. They were furious about the way they were being treated by the Department.

On one hand, farmers are obliged to fight to the bitter end to obtain compensation while, on the other, decisions are made to exclude forestry, road construction and house building from the provisions of the Bill. It is only right and proper that the farming community, which has a major role to play in the protection of wildlife and NHAs, should be adequately compensated. This matter comes down to pounds, shillings and pence – if we want to protect something we should be prepared to pay the price. I compliment the Minister on the consultative process in which she engaged in respect of the Bill. However, she must recognise that everything has its price. It is my view that, in some cases, farmers are not being compensated properly.

I have great sympathy for young people who are given a site by their parents on which they are obliged to carry out archaeological digs. This can place a great financial burden on young people who are trying to build a home. Compensation or a grant should be paid to these people who are trying to build homes in the areas in which they were born and reared because the costs involved are prohibitive. Perhaps the Minister will give consideration to this matter. It is important that the archaeological digs to which I refer are allowed to proceed but the costs involved place a heavy burden on some people.

I compliment the Minister on the way she has dealt with this important Bill. I will discuss certain aspects of it in greater detail on Committee Stage.

I thank Senator Burke for sharing time. I welcome the Minister and I congratulate her on the introduction of this Bill.

I am shocked by the thought that while we signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 1974, it has taken until now to introduce legislation to deal with this matter. We have a responsibility to ensure that this legislation is passed as quickly as possible. The manner in which the Minister dealt with the Bill and accepted amendments in the Lower House is indicative of her commitment in respect of this matter.

I congratulate those Members whose contributions preceded mine. I was extremely impressed by Senator Gibbons and particularly by his clear love for and knowledge about wildlife. His contribution is evidence that the House can achieve a great deal, particularly when it has Members who know their subject. I was disappointed by Senator Norris's comment that he would not teach his grandmother to suck eggs. That is a most inappropriate term to use in a debate on wildlife legislation and I have already informed him of that fact.

Those of us who are city dwellers are inclined to believe that wildlife matters to not apply to us to the same extent as they do to our rural counterparts. That is not the case. In the Howth and Sutton area where I live, people eagerly wait each year to see if the Brent geese arrive from North America on 23 October. Almost every year these birds arrive on that exact date. Their arrival is not welcomed by many people, however, particularly those whose property they damage in some form or other.

I am concerned about the clash that occurs between the interests of different parties. For example, the interests of those who wish to preserve the environment often come into conflict with those of other parties. In that context earlier speakers referred to agriculture but mention has not yet been made of tourism, other than to compliment it. Tourism interests are often concerned that visitors to this country should be able to see the landscape and, to facilitate the industry, there is a temptation to cut down hedgerows at exactly the wrong time, that is, during the nesting season. However, the Bill will give the Minister the authority to ensure that a balance between competing interests is achieved.

There is also a clash between the interests of conservationists and those in agriculture. Reference has already been made to the dangers of chemicals and the action we must take in that regard. One need only consider the benefits offered by organic farming, particularly if it allows us to avoid damaging the agricultural environment. As Senator Gibbons pointed out, most of us have inside us chemicals which were put into the food chain a generation ago. Let us ensure that in this instance we get the balance right and that we concentrate on the need to conserve our greatest asset – the environment – in the future.

I am not sure how the power to control trade in and collection of wildflowers that are not protected will work. I am aware of a case where someone discovered a particular type of flora on a person's land. As a result the landowner found that restrictions were placed on him of which he was unaware. I am not saying that we should protect that landowner's interest, I am more interested in discovering how we achieve a balance if it is not known that wildflowers are protected or that the need to protect them was not publicised.

The Minister stated, "The Bill provides for protection for NHAs in a fair and open manner and rules out any need for anxiety or fear among farmers or other landowners regarding the ownership of their land." I am concerned not about the ownership of land but with the creation of rights of way and trespass. Many years ago my family was given permission to ride horses on a person's land. However, we were later asked to give evidence that we had used the land in order that rights could be established against the landowner. I informed those seeking to have us give evidence that I had received permission from the landowner to use his land.

It is not acceptable that a person who allows visitors to travel across his or her land because it provides access to a natural heritage area is suddenly faced with the establishment of rights of way, either by virtue of permitted use or because trespass has created such rights. The Minister said that farmers' fears about the ownership of their land have been allayed. Will she indicate whether she has dealt with situations where rights of way have been established where it was not intended to do so?

We normally used the word "hunting" when referring to fox or stag hunting. The Bill refers specifically to "shooting" and I compliment the Minister on taking this step. Some years ago I collected visitors from France at the airport and brought them to my home. They could not believe the wildlife they saw while travelling through Portmarnock and Malahide on the way to Howth and asked why nobody had shot them. I told them that nobody would dare to shoot these birds. I am pleased these people had a disappointing week shooting woodcock in Killaloe. There seems to be a disregard among Europeans for our marvellous wildlife and many of them come here on shooting holidays. The Minister said that such visitors will have to show evidence of competency. However, I am not sure how this can be achieved and would welcome an explanation. Does it mean that everybody who wants a shooting licence will have to pass a test? While I welcome this proposal, I query how it will be done.

I congratulate the Minister on the Bill. Given that the convention was signed 24 years ago, we have a responsibility to assist the Minister in ensuring that the legislation, which will be in place for another generation or two, is perfect.

This very important and timely legislation has been in gestation for 15 years. During that time many public representatives from all political parties called for its introduction. When the Minister was in opposition she was to the forefront in calling for its introduction and it is very gratifying for her to present this Bill to both the Dáil and Seanad.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Minister in drafting the legislation was the harmonisation of our international commitments with our national aspirations. She has done a very fine job in this regard and nobody could suggest that the Bill is punitive. Rather the opposite is the case because if it was punitive the Minister would almost certainly have proposed the compulsory acquisition of land. I am glad she did not do this. It is a pity this legislation is necessary and it should only act as an instrument to ensure that we alert people to their duties. To paraphrase a dictum by Fintan Lawlor, landowners are the custodians of the nation's wealth, which, by extension, includes our natural resources. Farmers have done a good job as custodians of the wealth of the nation, our natural resources and wildlife, and they have often gone beyond the call of duty. Many members of the older generation in rural areas would be amused to think that this legislation is necessary and that so much time has been allocated in this august assembly to debate issues they regarded as natural.

I compliment Senator Gibbons on his informative contribution. He touched on many of the issues close to the hearts of people in rural areas. Even if legislation was not introduced, these aspirations would still exist. Like all developing countries, Ireland has seen many changes, which have brought with them many threats to aspects of life we took for granted. In former times we would have said that the best things in life are free. This is very true in relation to the environment in that people had access to it and could enjoy it.

People who never heard the corncrake may regard it as a superficial matter. However, those of us old enough to remember the call of the corncrake regarded it as an omen of happiness, a marker of seasonal development. There used to be a discussion in rural areas when the call of the corncrake was a day or two late. Today the corncrake can only be heard in certain areas. Its call was as important as the sound of the cuckoo, both of which were music to the ears of rural communities. Prior to the development of music as we know it today, that was the music of the community, as was the sound of the waterfall or wind. All these had a spiritual significance which we automatically absorbed and which helped in the development of our characters. When talking about wildlife we cannot talk about animals or flora and fauna in isolation as we are also talking about a spiritual wealth which we took for granted and which enhanced our lives. There was no discussion on it as it was part and parcel of what we were. Legislation was necessary in this area and I am glad this Bill is balanced.

The Bill should have an educational aspect to it. When I was going to school I was regarded as a townie and it was a big occasion when boys from the country joined us in secondary school. Not only were they good hurlers but they also had an understanding of nature, which was a natural part of their education. The teachers used to get them to describe nests, birds and animals and explain how to protect them. It was only in later life that the philosophical discussion took place on the need for man to kill animals to live and how man regarded animals simply as sport. That philosophical discussion, which very often was led by a minority, to some extent ruined the development of methods which would have complied with the changes taking place in rural areas. Instead these issues were looked at in black and white.

When I was growing up I owned three ferrets which I used to hunt rabbits. This was very much a part of my culture and I either sold the rabbits or brought them home to eat. There was an element of survival in this and if someone had said that I was involved in a blood sport I would have been shocked. The first time I saw a rabbit with myxomatosis its eyes were bulging and I was afraid to touch it and did not know how to help it. This disease became commonplace in later years. I never thought of killing a rabbit for the sake of it as it was killed for a specific purpose. When myxomatosis spread, foxes had to turn to another form of food and the farmer suffered as his chickens, ducks and geese were killed. When one interferes with the balance of nature one is not necessarily correcting it, rather one is passing on the problem, similar to the way in which a bypass around a town passes the problem on to the next town. It is important that there is a natural, accepted and traditional method of controlling nature. Animals do it among themselves and sometimes humans play a part in this.

If the argument that extermination is necessary because animals are harming something else was extended to humans, I know many people who would have been exterminated long before now. We must be careful not to allow these philosophical discussions to get out of hand. I have always had contact with rural Ireland. I have lived on a farm and I witnessed how the local farmer thought in terms of co-existence with wildlife in his environment. It was always comfortable and he always had a healthy respect for wildlife.

Recently I had a lovely experience. I was looking out the back window of my home one morning three weeks ago when I saw two foxes playing on the lawn. They were there for 20 minutes and their antics absolutely enthralled me. I have no doubt if a spaceship had landed I would not have been as engrossed as I was by the two foxes. If young people do not have such an experience, they miss out on something which is edifying and which reminds us that we are all partners in nature. Such events are happening more regularly. Foxes are coming closer to urban areas. When we have such an experience we realise the danger of what we are likely to lose.

I am moving from the clinical aspect of the legislation. It should be an instrument to alert us again about what we have inherited – the beauty of nature, the dangers of affluence and progress and striking a balance between them and, above all else, instilling in young people a regard for life. Every time I read a horror story about the torture of a dog or cat I cannot understand the mentality of any person who would deliberately inflict torture or death for no reason on a misfortunate animal. I often wonder whether it is symptomatic of the times in which we live. If people had a love for animals they would extend that love to human interaction.

I hope all the partners involved in the legislation will implement it in the spirit in which it is intended. I also hope nobody will view it as an indictment of the custodians of our natural heritage down through the years because if they had not been there I have no doubt we would not even have the base that exists today on which to build. I compliment the Minister on the balance she has struck in the legislation which comes from her own deep feelings for rural Ireland.

I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment Members on their contributions. This legislation is almost a catalyst as it allows Senators to look back wistfully on their youth and experiences in an Ireland that is fast disappearing. It is timely to update existing legislation and provide extra protections for flora and fauna in urban and rural areas.

Senators Gibbons and Ó Murchú both made excellent contributions and referred to the spiritual thread or ethos of the interlinking of the flora and fauna and its effect on the psyche of the nation through the centuries. It is a central part of what is Ireland. Ireland avoided the Industrial Revolution which damaged much of the English, German, Belgian and French landscapes and many of the habitats, flora and fauna in those areas.

Ireland was essentially a rural, agricultural society until it joined the EEC in 1972. Major changes in our landscapes, habitats and agricultural methods have occurred over the past 30 years, more or less since the original wildlife legislation was enacted in 1976. The changes that occurred over the past 24 years were greater than those that occurred in the earlier part of the 20th century and the 19th century. It is important that wildlife protections and conservation patterns are updated.

I also enjoyed the countryside as a youth growing up in Sligo. I recall an abundance of corncrakes and cuckoos at that time. That was only a generation ago and the current generation is beginning to lose much of that experience. Letters are still sent to The Irish Times about hearing the first cuckoo of the season but such letters will become rarer as time goes by. One does not read many letters about the first corncrake of the season because they are rarely to be found anywhere. There are a few along the River Shannon and in County Donegal.

Our countryside has changed a great deal. More roads have been built and agricultural methods have changed dramatically. A more intensive form of agriculture has been adopted by comparison to the natural form of agriculture that had been the norm. There has been major overgrazing on some habitats in remote areas which should be designated, such as the mountains of Donegal and Connemara. Many habitats have been lost because of soil erosion and overgrazing that occurred as a result of EU policy which promoted headage schemes and, therefore, quantity over quality. We must examine aspects of the destruction of our ecological heritage.

There have been fish kills in many rivers. The Minister's grandfather was noted at election time for indicating that future policy would be to drain the River Shannon. It was the only river that did not overflow during the recent floods which brought the country to a halt. Current policy relates to conservation and preventing pollution of our major river, currently one of the most polluted in the country.

Fertilisers filter into the water table and landfill is leaching, disturbing habitats and poisoning wildlife. Flora and fauna are interlinked. Decisions we have taken, such as those in regard to the construction of holiday homes, have affected wildlife. Such homes are generally found in the most beautiful and remote areas which contain important wildlife habitats but intensive development can damage them.

Some wildlife is adapting well to urbanisation. Speakers have referred to sighting foxes and badgers in urban settings in increasing numbers. The attitude of people in terms of feeding birds during the winter will lead to an increase in the numbers of wild birds which will survive the season. Wildlife is increasing in urban areas because there is more food available.

I welcome the natural heritage areas. The Minister is taking the correct approach in terms of designating areas on a mutually agreeable basis with farmers and landowners to avoid conflicts and, where necessary, provide compensation. However, I would not want it to take away from the perception of Ireland as a national heritage site and the country deserving of being a habitat for wildlife. The ethos should still be retained that farmers need not or should not be paid as such for the preservation of natural habitats and ensuring the best set of circumstances for birds nesting in hedgerows by the manner in which they cut grass in their meadows. It should be part and parcel of their ethos.

There should be an awareness programme to apprise them of the expectation that they would do this as responsible citizens who, as Senator Ó Murchú said, are holding the land as custodians for future generations. It is an inheritance they have which will be passed on to their children and that should be done with the land in as pristine a fashion as possible. It can only be done if they take all the necessary measures without being paid to ensure all wildlife, flora and fauna, is preserved.

There are aspects which will require compensation. The REP scheme is an excellent one from the European Union which contributes considerably to reducing the amount of slurry and fertiliser going into rivers and streams at present. There will be other aspects which require compensation such as where a farmer cannot develop land in a productive or commercial fashion that he or she would otherwise be able to do. The con cept of sustainable agriculture and development is important. Respect for the land is widespread among the farming community and it is second to none in that regard. This is a wonderful country in terms of landscape which is littered with hedgerows which are not generally interfered with in any fashion which endangers the wildlife living in them.

The designation of geological and geomorphological sites is very welcome and I have read in the newspapers what the Minister is doing in that regard. I know she is already spending money on a few sites in Sligo and that is very welcome.

The extension of the list of species to include fish and aquatic wildlife which were not included in the previous Act and the extension of the Act to all wild plants and animals is to be welcomed. A number of people referred to hedgerows. They are a boon to this country more than any other I have visited. They are the greatest means of preserving habitats. If they were to go, much wildlife would disappear.

As Senator Quinn said, it is a shame it has taken us so long to be in a position to ratify the signing of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species and wild fauna and flora. It is to be welcomed that we are doing it at last.

The legislation is silent on blood sports. While it refers to hunting, this concerns licences for hunting and ensuring there is not indiscriminate killing of wildlife. The two are different. One is the shooting or culling of wildlife whereas bloodsports concern a person chasing wildlife for pleasure and enjoyment. We must address the blood sports issue in Ireland. We have touched on it from time to time but we have never dealt with it seriously, either in terms of coursing, fox hunting, stag hunting or badger baiting or hunting, nor have we addressed the considerable cruelty attached to the manner in which it is done and the way the animal is treated both in the hunt and in the killing. We hear horrific stories every season. We must recognise that the animals involved are all wild animals, foxes, stags and badgers, and are hunted, not for human food but for human pleasure. That is what we must examine.

I would like to see us taking a stand on the issue. I am not sure this is the appropriate legislation, but I would have thought it was because it deals with the protection of wildlife and the designation of wildlife habitats and sites. The stand we take will have to be radical. I know there is great division between town and country on this. However, I find it very difficult to justify the practice and I say that as someone who comes from the country and who, in my time as a child, snared rabbits and so on and saw the horror of myxomatosis. No one in the countryside would eat a rabbit after that terrible disease spread throughout the country.

Hunting for pleasure is unacceptable and the line must be drawn that, while there is commercial hunting, fishing and culling of wildlife, there should not be commercial or other forms of blood sports where human beings not only chase animals but kill them, which is the normal outcome of the chase. It involves a considerable amount of cruelty, does not benefit anyone and does not redound to the well-being of or a sense of respect for animals which we should have. I urge the Minister to examine this issue seriously to see whether some movement can be made.

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister. Unfortunately, no amount of legislation will protect wildlife unless food is provided for it. That is the greatest problem. Many people blame insecticides, manure, etc. However, rats have been poisoned and killed down the centuries and they are more plentiful today than ever. The same goes for mice. We tried to kill flies with DDT in years gone by and now with different types of sprays, but they still survive. The reason wildlife has disappeared from the country is that there is no food for it. Human life and wildlife are inter-related and linked together.

Like Senator Ó Murchú, had we not had rabbits in my young days, we would have had no meat for dinner. During the war years, we earned sixpence apiece when we killed rabbits for a fellow from Sligo town who bought them. Every butcher's shop in Sligo had them hung up and that fellow earned a shilling for each one. We earned sixpence from him for them and ten rabbits were worth five shillings, which meant we had money for the week. It was great pocket money. However, we also had rabbits for dinner.

In those days we hunted with hounds for hares. There was a great code if a person became violent. In those days, any man who had more than two hounds chasing a hare would be frowned on by any farmer and would be run off the land. It was highly offensive to let more than two hounds on a hare. If a person fired at a rabbit on the ground and a farmer saw it, he would run the person off the land. The pheasant had to be given a chance for his life so he was only shot at in the air. The rabbit had to be given a chance for his life so he was only shot at when running. That was a code of practice. It was the same with a row in a dance hall or at a fair. People would make a ring around the people involved in the row but if any man used the shoe or the ash plant, he would come out the worst of it. That code of regulation existed in those days.

The times have changed.

There were a great many houses in rural Ireland in those days. The women were feeding hens so there was food for the birds, and when farmers dug their vegetable gardens and ploughed their half acre there was more food for the birds. I will always remember the poem in the school book:

I will go with my father a-ploughing to the green field by the sea,

And the rooks and the crows and the seagulls will come flocking after me.

He will sing to the patient horses, with the lark in the white of the air,

And my father will sing the plough song that blesses the cleaving shear.

Members will recall reading that poem in their schoolbooks in days gone by. Now, however, the land is not being ploughed and there are no oats.

No hens.

The landlords of old protected wildlife in a big way. They promoted shoots and all the things that anti-blood sport protesters object to today. I remember Lissadell in the snow and frost when two men would be sent out with a horse and cart and a load of sheaves of wheat or oats. They went through the avenues in the wood hanging the sheaves upside down on trees along the way so the birds could feed in the wintertime when food was scarce.

Three years ago we had much frost and snow in my part of the country. I walked about 30 or 40 acres of land, much of which was boggy, where I used to shoot pheasants, but during the day I did not rise one pheasant. I saw a few blackbirds and thrushes where an elderly farmer was feeding two calves in the corner of a field.

In my young days, searching for birds' nests was a big activity and at school one would be asked, "How many birds' nests have you?" Feeding cattle in the fields during the winter, one would go through whitethorn hedges looking for nests. One would mark those spots because birds always seem to come back and build in the same place, using the same old nests. Recently, I walked along about three miles of hedges that had not been cut for 30 years or more, yet I did not see one bird's nest. Why? It is because there is no food for birds.

Why is there more wildlife in villages and towns than in the countryside? It is because of the food without which wildlife cannot live. People talk as if wildlife can live on fresh air, but it cannot. Small farmers in areas such as the wilds of Connemara tilled small plots of land with a spade or a loy and in that way they provided food for wildlife. People object to golf courses on the grounds that they destroy natural habitats, but golf courses provide much protection and food for wildlife. For example, many weeds and other plants that produce seeds get a chance to grow in such an environment where cattle cannot interfere with them.

Birds were great preservers of wildlife because they ate berries and transferred seeds around in a natural way through their droppings. In that way more flora grew. In the same way, birds transferred pollen, as bees do, and thus promoted the growth of more flora. It has been forgotten that, in the broadest sense of the word, people are fauna also. We are a form of animal. People generally seem to think that the word "fauna" refers to some wild animals way out in the heather, whin or the woods, but that is not so. Unless we bring back a co-relationship whereby food is provided for wild animals, we will not have them around.

The fox is a cute animal and that is why I see more of them near cities than in the countryside. Before the Mullingar bypass was opened, one could see them near that town and other urban areas. Foxes will come where the food is but there is no longer any food in the countryside.

The person who introduced mixomatosis should have been shot because it was the greatest destroyer of wildlife that every came to this country. It was a shocking disease to introduce here. It destroyed the rabbit population, along with the pleasure obtained from hunting rabbits. While there was an element of sport involved in rabbit hunting, people did not kill them for the sake of doing so. The end product was the following day's dinner.

In the past, landlords had gamekeepers but nowadays there are none. In my area, gamekeepers culled grey crows, jackdaws and magpies. Those birds destroy wildlife because they rob other birds' nests and can kill an entire flock. When gamekeepers were there to keep an eye on things they culled such birds. We expect wildlife to live naturally in isolated which nobody goes near, but that is not the case. In such conditions wildlife will die out.

In years gone by, when one cut turf, the grouse and water hens were rising but one will not see that happening today. One can walk any bog in the country but one will not rise a grouse or a water hen. They are not there because the bogs have remained untouched for the past 20 years. Experts realise that human life is related to wildlife; one lives off the other and, thus, they are inter-related. We should introduce a scheme to encourage farmers to till acres or half acres of land and set aside food specifically for birds and other wildlife. Unless that is done we will not have any wildlife. Cutting hedgerows and using insecticides and fertiliser is the soft answer. I know from experience that during the winter months one cannot find a bird's nest in acres of trees and hedgerows.

I appeal to the Minister to introduce a scheme to feed wildlife. If we are serious about this matter we should do what the landlords of old did by re-introducing gamekeepers to cull what has to be culled. It is a full-time job to preserve wildlife; it does not just live willy-nilly. Unless we take those measures we will not have any wildlife. Our ancestors gave us the wildlife because it was part of their way of life. Unless we emulate what they did we will never get the wildlife back again.

I thank all Senators for their contributions. I must apologise to the House for having to leave for a short period during the debate. In the contributions I heard, Senators have certainly been passionate about the need to preserve our wildlife. The vast majority of Members who contributed to the debate today were from rural backgrounds. I was born and brought up in Dublin, but for the past 18 years I have been living in a rural constituency on the west coast. I have learned a tremendous amount from that experience.

The fact that so many people have contributed in such a committed way to preserving our wildlife proves the importance of land users or land owners. As a number of speakers have said, those living on the land have done so much in acting as custodians of our wildlife. At the beginning of the wider public debate, even before the publication of the Bill, there seemed to be a perception that landowners, farmers and other land users would be on one side of the argument and conservationists on the other. Now, however, there is a convergence of views among the general public, and rightly so, that farmers have done much to ensure we have a wildlife heritage to talk about. They have done much to sustain wildlife throughout the years.

Another issue mentioned in the debate was the importance of education, particularly of young people growing up in our cities who may not have the opportunity to experience rural life, regarding the importance of conservation and preservation of wildlife. They should learn that we are all part of this. As Senator Ó Murchú said, there is a tremendous spiritual benefit and we must promote this, not just preserve it. That is why I have put a great deal of emphasis on education since I came into office, particularly with regard to our architectural and natural heritage. We should continue to do this by targeting our younger people and making sure they have the opportunity to learn and take part in what is an obligation shared by all of us to look after our heritage, particularly our natural heritage. This debate centres on that element of our heritage.

Senator Manning and other Members referred to the importance of enforcing this legislation and ensuring we have the resources to do it. I agree with those who contributed on this issue. It is one thing to have nicely wrapped up legislation but it is quite another to ensure it will be enforced. The key feature of any legislation is the ability to enforce it. As in most other areas, additional resources can be put to good use in the area of natural conservation. I can say with confidence that this sector is better and more effectively resourced than it has ever been.

I want to refer to some practical approaches that I have taken within my Department. Since taking office I have employed an extra 40 conservation rangers, bringing the total number to over 80. Such staffing greatly enhances the Depart ment's capacity effectively to safeguard important wildlife habitats. The number of administrative and scientific staff supporting the rangers has also been increased by 24. This number includes three regionally based ecologists who will be able to deal with issues as they arise.

I am enhancing the powers of the rangers. Under the Wildlife Acts I am providing them with the power of arrest and they can now for the first time stop and search a person. I am also improving their powers of seizure. Section 66 is a comprehensive set of provisions and allows for the inspection of land by authorised officers.

I am happy to say there is a far greater awareness of wildlife conservation today than ever before. The appeals board and liaison committees have been put in place to deal with questions on special areas of conservation. The experience of the NGOs and the landowners on those committees has been extremely positive overall. I have been told, particularly by the NGOs, that the convergence on all of these issues has been a pleasant surprise to anyone that did not expect this type of co-operation.

I commend initiatives like the one currently being undertaken by the Heritage Council, in conjunction with local authorities, to appoint county based heritage officers. On numerous occasions in both Houses we have looked to local interests to protect, conserve and promote heritage. The best possible way to do this is to focus on local authorities and ensure they have the opportunity, where the appointment of county based heritage officers is concerned, to focus on these issues and give a lead in the local community on conservation.

Senators Manning and Gibbons referred to the importance of hedgerows. This issue took up quite some time during the Dáil debate and many Members referred to it here today.

Section 40 of the principal Act restricted the destruction of vegetation on uncultivated land during the main breeding and nesting seasons for birds. In section 46 of this Bill I have brought forward a number of changes which will strengthen the provisions of the Act, mainly with a view to enhancing the role of this legislation in providing protection to hedgerows. Enhanced protection is being provided for hedgerows during the nesting season. As I have already pointed out, we are providing that hedgerows and other vegetation may not be cut from the 1 March to 1 September. Everyone in the Dáil and Seanad has agreed with this change.

During this debate Senator Gibbons asked whether the compilation of a database would be the correct approach to this issue. My advice is that 1 March is the most appropriate date as it is hard to have a more flexible start-up time. We must approach it in the way I suggest in this Bill.

I am limiting public bodies, including local authorities, to cutting hedgerows during the period 1 March to 1 September only where considerations of public health and safety apply. This will ensure that routine maintenance and cutting of hedges cannot take place during this period. Hedgerows will also be considered in the national heritage plan and the national biodiversity plan because all of these things are obviously interlinked.

The issue of laying hedges came up in the Dáil. This morning Senator Gibbons suggested that laying hedges should be promoted under the REP scheme. He made a reasonable point and I will take it up with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

Senators Manning and Norris raised the issue of the local authority cutting hedges. Concern has been voiced about it. The Senators will be aware that the Bill provides, in cases where there is cause for concern about hedge cutting, that I can request the bodies to supply me with relevant information. It is my intention to monitor the effectiveness of this provision over time. It is open to me to take measures to improve its effectiveness if necessary. Under this legislation we will be able to see how things progress and we can review the situation if we feel it is not satisfactory.

Use a firm fist.

I will consider all of these issues as we progress.

I will raise with the Department of the Environment and Local Government the matter of what action will be required to give best effect to the new requirement being placed on local authorities to limit their hedge cutting operations to cases where considerations of public health and safety arise. If we want to see this being carried out effectively and efficiently in the way we would wish in this Department, then continuous consultation and contact with local authorities will be important. I am sure they will welcome this approach.

Senator Mooney referred to a number of issues, not least the importance of consultation. Nearly all of the Senators raised this issue. I am glad they accept that there was a tremendous amount of consultation before we reached this Stage of the Bill. Consultation is the way I would wish to proceed, not just on issues such as the ones that are being discussed today. That would be my philosophy when dealing with issues in my Department.

Senator Mooney raised the important issue of development. He said there were possible or potential conflicts between developments and heritage conservation, particularly with regard to archaeological issues. We all support the national development plan and wish to see the improvement of infrastructure throughout the country. In order to achieve that, work must take place within a certain period.

I wished to ensure the Department would have an opportunity to look forward and would not be seen as reacting to this situation. We looked at ways by which a code or plan could be put in place where there could be a proper roll-out of these issues and any issues which arose could be dealt with in a cool and calm way without causing delays. We have had discussions, therefore, with the National Roads Authority, which have proved fruitful and as a result of which we have come up with a code of practice which we expect to work well, although obviously the position can be reviewed in time.

During the discussions much goodwill was built. Those responsible in the NRA and the Department realise that a balance has to be struck. The balance struck in the code of practice, as published, is fair. I will forward a copy to any Member who would like to have one. We will continue to have consultations with the Department of the Environment and Local Government by way of discussions with the local authorities.

I hope further agreements can be put in place. A precedent has been set in our discussions with the NRA in protecting our heritage. It is a code of practice which could be adjusted to include other bodies. The new provisions in the planning Acts will obviously be of great help while the penalties included in the Bill, an issue raised by most Members, will also act as a deterrent. It was said that they will send a signal that we are serious about what we wish to do in the legislation.

Senator Mooney, among others, raised the issue of the acquisition of land. On NHAs, I have taken the opportunity to highlight that I have taken a very different view from the question of compulsory purchase to the one outlined initially in the Bill. The Bill provides for the power to acquire land in the normal way. We may be in a position to look at other ways by which the question of the acquisition of land can be promoted.

Like so many others, Senator Mooney also highlighted the importance of promoting our heritage in schools. As I am sure Members are aware, I took the opportunity to ensure school children on school tours would have free access to national heritage sites. I very much wanted to send a signal that young people in particular should be given an opportunity to learn about the importance of our heritage while still at school.

I thank Senator Norris, who welcomed the Bill, for his contribution. He mentioned that NGOs seem to be generally satisfied with its provisions. Since taking office, I have deliberately had ongoing consultations with them. I also had consultations with individuals who wished to raise particular issues with me with regard to the Bill.

Senator Norris said that he was concerned that the protection for notified NHAs was weak. I wish to address the concerns expressed about the issue of protection for notified as opposed to designated NHAs, a matter also raised at some length in the Dáil. It is a very important issue. During the consultation process following publication of the Bill, a number of conservation NGOs, while welcoming the overall approach to natural heritage areas, also raised concerns about potential damage to NHAs during the notification stage.

I recognise that the interim period between notification and designation is potentially a very dangerous one. While the vast majority of farmers and other landowners will not set out to damage NHAs, I am conscious that proposed NHAs could be open to damage by unscrupulous individuals during the notification stage. Consequently, in recognition of these concerns, I have devised a package of amendments aimed at ensuring damage to notified NHAs is prevented. These improvements, which I introduced on Committee Stage in the Dáil, will secure our overall objective, which is to have a system for NHAs which guarantees their permanent protection in a fair and balanced manner while eliminating the need for compulsory purchase.

Specifically, in section 19 I introduced an amendment which requires that in a notified NHA a person shall not carry out potentially damaging works without first giving three months notice to the Minister. Proceeding with works without giving such notification will constitute an offence. In most cases the three month period will facilitate the completion of the designation process, if it is decided that designation is warranted. Section 20 enables me to apply to the courts, if necessary, to seek the prohibition of damaging works.

On foot of concerns expressed on Committee Stage in the Dáil regarding notified NHAs, I further undertook to consider, including through consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, whether protection for notified NHAs could be strengthened further. The clear advice is that appropriate restrictions are already being imposed on the owner of a notified NHA and that it is not possible nor should it be necessary to go beyond these.

Despite the amendments introduced on Committee Stage in the Dáil, some Senators are still of the view that notified NHAs have been left without protection and will be open to widespread damage and destruction. That is not the case. The Bill clearly provides that potentially damaging works in a notified NHA can be prohibited. Where a person fails to notify the Minister of works three months in advance the Minister can seek a court injunction to have any works stopped if it is considered likely that they will destroy or damage the notified NHA.

Senators Norris and Costello raised the issue of licensing with regard to snaring badgers under the ongoing research programme of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in the context of bovine tuberculosis. The programme is subject to annual review. I have sought to balance the clearly established need for further scientific research for the purposes of the TB eradication programme with my statutory responsibilities with regard to the protection of the badger under the Wildlife Act, 1976. Although I understand people hold very strong views, the issues of animal welfare and cruelty do not come within the remit of my Department, rather they are the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

Senator Burke raised a number of issues, including compensation for farmers. I indicated that I wanted a clear, fair and proper approach to be adopted. It is essential to provide for incentives and compensation for farmers where there are actual losses. Prior to my taking office, the Bill did not provide for the payment of compensation. I changed that and the Bill now provides compensation for farmers and others. I also removed the compulsory purchase aspect from the Bill, which would have been given high priority by farmers.

Senator Gibbons referred to the landscape policy. He will know the Heritage Council has taken some initiatives in this regard. I attended a landscape conference recently which was run by the Heritage Council and I am sure it will be happy to give the Senator any further information on that issue from its perspective.

Senator Quinn talked about the necessary balance in the Bill. He also referred to the important part tourism plays in our economy. The built and natural heritage plays a very important part in tourism because, as we know, people do not come to Ireland to enjoy the weather but for our tremendous heritage. We want to protect that heritage, not just for revenue reasons but also because of its intrinsic value. However, I agree it has an important impact on tourism.

Senator Quinn also referred to controls on tourists who come here to shoot. The Bill enables the introduction of competency tests for licences. This new feature is very welcome. The hunting bodies favoured this approach in my consultations with them. The test could cover knowledge of wildlife species and wildlife legislation. That may help and is an important issue.

I thank Senator Ó Murchú for his very balanced approach. He talked about the importance of our traditions and spiritual wealth. Nature has a very civilising effect on all of us, a thought which the Senator put most eloquently. He emphasised the need for education. I heartily agree with him on all these issues.

Senator Farrell referred to the importance of conservation and the link between the activities of humankind and our non-human relatives. It is very easy, in a world which is becoming increasingly mechanised, to forget the importance of our links with the rest of nature. I envied his ability to remember the poem – I would not have a hope of reciting poems I learned at school. The Senator's recall is obviously far greater than mine.

As I said earlier, wildlife and environmental issues have never had a higher profile in Ireland than at present. This is vital to all our lives. I am especially heartened by our young people, who are particularly switched on to environmental issues. I have encouraged my officials to build on the Department's successful education and visitor facilities role to meet this need and to deepen interest in their heritage among our youth.

However, as has been pointed out repeatedly in the debate, wildlife does not exist in a vacuum. In these times of growth, we must approach wildlife issues in the context of welcome national development, incorporating major social, infrastructual, technological and industrial change. A major part of my job, as Minister, is to achieve the optimum balance between what at times can be conflicting needs. The Bill will prove to be a tremendous help to our efforts to achieve this balance.

Furthermore, over time, more and more people will begin to see heritage as something that can aid rather than hinder economic development. With increasing sameness creeping in, our world appears to get smaller. Our heritage will continue to mark us out and define us into the future. As years ago by, it will increasingly be seen to be vital. We will not be thanked by future generations if we make mistakes now. We have more opportunities now, in terms of education and finance, to improve our approach to wildlife and we have an obligation to do so.

I thank the Members who contributed to this debate and for their very positive approach to this important Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Wednesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 22 November 2000.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 2.30 p.m. next Wednesday.