A MAN had fines and convictions for wildlife offences upheld at a recent sitting of Carlow Circuit Criminal Court.
On 26 April at Carlow Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Gerard Griffin upheld the decision of the district court to convict a Laois man for five ***Wildlife Act*** offences committed on the Laois/Carlow border in May of last year.
At a hearing in Carlow District Court in September 2021, the defendant pleaded guilty to all five offences. Judge Geraldine Cathy imposed a fine of €3,000 for the destruction of birds’ nests and their eggs and €3,000 for damaging vegetation during the bird-nesting season. The man then appealed the penalties imposed to Carlow Circuit Criminal Court.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) took the case, which was prosecuted by Alan Millard, state solicitor for Co Carlow.
Outlining the details to Judge Griffin, district conservation officer Kieran Buckley of the NPWS, the investigating officer, told the judge the sheer scale of the damage to the hedgerows and the mature hardwood trees was effectively the death of a local farmland ecosystem.
Twelve-hundred linear metres of hedgerow vegetation, with an average width of 11 metres, had been completely torn up, along with 54 mature hardwood trees.
The nests of five different hedgerow bird species were found with their eggs smashed or abandoned by the parent birds because of the damage.
He described this outcome to the judge as a significant blow for local farmland birds, notably when the state had declared a biodiversity crisis.
Mr Millard asked Mr Buckley what he believed may have been the defendant’s motivation to act in the way he had and the broader environmental implications.
Mr Buckley told the court that by tearing out the hedgerow vegetation and the mature trees, the defendant had increased the size of areas farmed to claim additional subsidy payments, which Judge Griffin described as a reward for criminality. He also told the judge that the average age of the mature trees was 100 years; along with the sheer volume of hedgerow vegetation, these trees would have sequestered significant amounts of carbon before their destruction.
It was an environmental benefit now confined to history by the damage inflicted, said Mr Buckley, adding that it would take half a century for this ecosystem to recover.
Mr Buckley told the judge that the defendant was furtive with his answers at the beginning of his investigation. He gave evidence that after his first visit, he circled back to speak with the defendant to clarify a matter, adding that on that occasion he had completely changed his story. The judge believed the defendant knew the law and the dates when it was unlawful to cut vegetation – remarking that even the dogs in the street know those dates. The judge described the photographic evidence of the destroyed vegetation as horrendous. He said what the defendant had done was an act of grave criminality, telling him that he could have been fined €25,000 in the district court for the ***Wildlife Act*** offences he committed.
The judge told the defence counsel that the court was tempted to increase, not reduce, the fine imposed by the district court, adding that if the defendant had pleaded not guilty to the charges in Carlow Circuit Criminal Court, he would have faced six months in prison for what he had done.
The defence counsel suggested to the judge that if his client donated a smaller amount to a wildlife charity, it would be more valuable than the fine going to the coffers of the state. Judge Griffin disagreed. “The state,” he said, “is required to pay the salary of Mr Buckley, and that is why this fine would go to the state”. Considering the defendant’s family circumstances, Judge Griffin extended time for the payment of the fine to six months. Upholding the decision of the district court, he disallowed the appeal and commended the work of the NPWS for following up with this investigation.