I propose to take Questions Nos. 135 and 136 together.
Under Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts, the cutting, grubbing, burning or destruction by other means of vegetation growing on uncultivated land or in hedges or ditches is prohibited during the nesting and breeding season for birds and wildlife, from 1 March to 31 August subject to certain specific exceptions. Hedgerows are an important reservoir of biodiversity and habitat for birds, insects, wild flowers and other wildlife during the summer breeding season. The purpose of these provisions is to protect bird life during the nesting season, to prevent forest fires, and to protect vegetation and wildlife habitats during the months of growth and reproduction. I have no current plans to extend this period.
While hedgerows and scrub are important as wildlife habitats, they need to be managed in the interests of both farming and biodiversity. Accordingly, I included a commitment in the National Biodiversity Plan 2011-16 to review the overall policy in this area. The commitment is to review, in co-operation with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, both hedgerow and scrub regulation with a view to producing guidelines to encourage best practice for hedgerow and scrub management for wildlife. As part of that review, the potential for setting the relevant dates by statutory instrument, rather than in primary legislation as is the position currently, will be examined.