'Protecting my livelihood, that is all I was doing': Farmer fined for flood defence work
Diggers were spotted during routine aerial monitoring
A farmer who shored up the embankment of a field beside the River Barrow as a flood protection measure found himself in the District Court.
Ballyminogue landholder George Phelan of Tinascully, The Rower was prosecuted for carrying out unauthorised activity in a Special Area of Conservation.
The case was taken by the Department of Arts, Culture, and The Gaelteacht after diggers were spotted in the river valley in April 2015.
Conservation ranger Tony Murry told the court sitting in Wexford that he saw the diggers during routine aerial monitoring in the Air Corps Cessna aeroplane.
He explained that the site at Balluminogue is north of New Ross on the Wexford side of the Barrow.
He called to the field eight days later and he was followed shortly afterwards by two colleagues - deputy regional manager Ciara O'Mahony and district conservation officer Lorcan Scott.
They found the two diggers still there and they advised the farmer that he should not continue work without gaining consent.
However, when they returned on May 18 to discover evidence that the work of building up the kilometer long embankment between Phelan's field and the river the river had been completed.
Ms O'Mahony noted that some of the material used had been scooped up from the river side of the levee.
Lorcan Scott pointed out that disturbing river sediments can affect fish species such as salmon and lamprey, while riverbank vegetation provides cover for otters.
George Phelan reminded Judge Cheatle that massive floods which occurred in 2014 left his low lying cattle pasture under 12 feet of water at high tide.
He turned to contractor Ger Hennessy to carry out reinforcement work and suggested that he was the last of 25 farmers in the area to do so.
He noted that farmers close to New Ross port had received grants to install thousands of tonnes of rock armour.
"Protecting my livelihood, that is all I was doing," he insisted "I felt I had no choice."
He assured the court that in future he would definitely look or permission if carrying out similar work.
Judge Cheatke was satisfied that an offence had been committed but he was prepared to keep the fine down to a low level - €150. The court allowed Phelan six months for payment.
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