Cutting payments over illegal fires 'not way forward'
Cutting the Basic Payments of farmers who burn land illegally is leading to a reduction in forest and gorse fires but isn't the way forward, Coillte stated.
In 2018, Coillte recorded 321 incidents compared to 690 in 2017. Ciaran Nugent of the Forest Service said that cutting Basic Payments in 2017 before Christmas led to a change in behaviour in the farming community's attitude to burning.
"We have satellites which are looking for hotspots. We then get a text from NASA and it says we have a fire in the declared area, we query that fire. Once it is detected, it goes to the Department," said Mr Nugent.
"They assess and implement payment penalties as required. It has been really effective in influencing a very rapid change in behaviour. We saw before the deadline at the end of February lots of burning being done so farmers are changing their ways."
However, Coillte Risk Manager Mick Power said that education rather than penalising farmers is the way forward.
"I've had discussions with the Department about it, nobody wants to see anybody getting lumbered or stuck, they might not necessarily cause the fire but they would get caught up in the consequences," he told the Farming Independent at Coillte's recent fire safety day in Avondale, Co Wicklow.
"You take if a farmer decides to light the vegetation and it travels over to this other guy's lands, he might not even know that it's burned and next thing he is docked his payments.
"It's not fair so that's why the issue of education with relation to consequences and regulation is the best method because there's too much money at stake. Instead of having the big stick to beat up people, an incentive for education would be better."