Farmers warn that hill walking could be shut down amid fire fears

Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Farmers facing heavy penalties for wildfires could stop walkers coming onto their land, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association has said.

Mayo Chair of the Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association Gerry Loftus has called on Minister Creed to retract his recent statement which will see farmers held responsible for wildfires they have not lit.

If he doesn’t stated Loftus “the only sensible action for farmers will be to restrict access to their property which will clearly impact on hill walking."

He said there is a situation in Mayo where farmers have payments held up due to a fire which none of them had anything to do with and where a non-farmer has been convicted of lighting the fire – all be it by accident.

"Unfortunately the farmers are the ones that continue to suffer and while these farmers and others like them need to have their monies paid out, all farmers will now need to assess what public access to their property means.”

As Mayo Chair of the INHFA I am he added “very conscious of the impact that this could have on our tourism sector and would hope that the Minister and his officials will see the mistake that this threat is before we get to the point of seeing these hills closed. This however is for the Minister and his officials to decide on.

"If he removes the threat of penalising farmers for fires they have not lit, then this will reassure farmers that they have nothing to fear from the public accessing their land. If he doesn’t remove this threat, then Minister, it will be you and your advisors that will have closed the hills."

It comes as farmers were warned that if they burn land after March 1 they risk facing prosecution, while the land is not eligible for payment under the Basic Payment Scheme and other area-based schemes.

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Farmers who burn land illegally, may face reduced payment and penalties under this scheme and the other area-based schemes, e.g. Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme and it can also render the land of your neighbours ineligible for payment.

The Minister said that both farmers and the wider public, whether it be at work or in enjoying the countryside, should at this time of year be mindful  of the damage caused by burning and should take appropriate care.

The burning of vegetation is controlled by the Wildlife Acts and it is an offence under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act, 1976 (amended by Section 46 of the Wildlife Act, 2000) to burn, from  March 1 to August 31 in any year, any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated.

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