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Farmers fined €1,000 on average for illegal wildfires

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Dozens of fires have burned thousands of acres in the 10 weeks since the start of the closed season

Dozens of fires have burned thousands of acres in the 10 weeks since the start of the closed season

Dozens of fires have burned thousands of acres in the 10 weeks since the start of the closed season

Farmers caught illegally burning land were docked an average of €1,000 each in subsidies last year - a fraction of the cost of the damage caused in many cases.

Just 80 farmers had money due under the Basic Payment Scheme withheld, losing an average of €1,014 each.

But 400 were investigated in relation to illegal fires and more than 2,000 countryside and woodland fires were recorded, with the financial cost running to hundreds of thousands of euro with the impact on wildlife and habitats incalculable.

Dozens of fires have burned thousands of acres in the 10 weeks since the start of the closed season which makes the deliberate burning of land to clear gorse and scrub illegal until September.

The Dublin Mountains and counties Wicklow, Roscommon, Laois and Offaly all suffered serious fires recently.

Unesco-protected Bull Island in Dublin became the latest victim on Monday night.

While not all are believed to be deliberate, there is growing concern over the weakness of protections for natural habitats and the lack of action on wildlife crime.

Wildlife groups are still reeling over the belated revelation that 23 buzzards - which are protected - died by poisoning in one incident last December.

Wildlife and environmental organisations are now hoping a new EU biodiversity strategy to be unveiled today will help bring fresh focus on the need to protect what remains of the country's natural landscape and marine habitats.

A leaked draft of the 10-year strategy includes plans to extend and strengthen protections to 30pc of all EU land and sea areas.

Currently 26pc of land and 11pc of coastal sea is protected but legal enforcement is often lacking. Within protected zones, one-third would be declared strictly protected, meaning no human disturbance would be permitted.

Some 10pc of all land in use for agriculture would be taken back for the development of non-commercial trees, hedgerows, ponds and meadow, and pesticide use would be reduced by 50pc.

Other measures focus on reforestation, ending over-fishing, encouraging organic farming, floodplain restoration, eradication of pollution, development of urban green spaces and strengthened plans to protect vulnerable and endangered species.

Many of the measures will prove controversial if retained in the final document because of restrictions imposed on agriculture and industry.

The strategy is to be published alongside the EU's farm to fork policy document which focuses particularly on improving food production practices.

Oliver Moore of ARC2020, an EU-wide umbrella organisation of rural, environmental and agricultural reform groups which published the leaked draft, said it was vital that the measures are not watered down.

"These strategies will really set the tone for how EU agriculture and environment policy will be shaped for a number of years," he said.

"They need to be as ambitious as possible."

Mr Moore said he was particularly concerned that the pesticide reduction policies set out in the draft were retained. Farming interests have voiced opposition to the plans.

"This will be the true test today. If real reduction targets aren't in place, this will just be window dressing."

Irish Independent


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