Friday 19 April 2019

Farmers warned they could lose vital payments over illegal fires

A fire raging out of control around the iconic church at Gougane Barra last April. Photo: John Delea
A fire raging out of control around the iconic church at Gougane Barra last April. Photo: John Delea

Bill Browne

Farmers and landowners have been warned they face severe financial sanctions, including the suspension of government grant schemes, if they are caught setting illegal fires on their land. 

The issue of illegal gorse burning has been a problem for many years with some farmers clearing their land at this time of the year in order to maximise its use for the year ahead. 

However, it can result in fires burning wildly out of control posing a danger to property, rural infrastructure and the health and well-being of nearby residents. 

With this in mind,  Agriculture minister Michael Creed had issued a strong warning to farmers and their advisors relating to agricultural and eligible forestry land which is burned illegally during the closed season, which runs from March 1 to August 31. 

As in previous years, the department is using satellite imagery to assess compliance with regulations and further inspections may be undertaken on lands where evidence of fires has been detected after the March 1 deadline. In a circular warned that those burning land during the closed season could face prosecution and that the land could be considered ineligible for payments under the Basic Payments Scheme and other initiatives. 

"Inclusion of illegally burnt land in the 2018 Basic Payments Scheme application may result in reduced payment and penalties under this and other areas-based schemes such as the Areas of Natural Constraints scheme," read the circular. 

Officials also warned that the illegal burning could also render the land of neighbours ineligible for payments. 

While the recent poor weather has limited land burning, there is the potential higher risk conditions emerging as the weather improves and temperatures rise. 

In the past, this has also led to concerns that uncontrolled fires can often divert emergency services away from more serious and potentially life-threatening incidents, Minister Creed said that it was not just farmers who needed to be aware of the serious nature of this issue. 

"Both farmers and the wider public, whether it be at work or in enjoying the countryside , should a this time of the year be mindful of the damage that can be caused by burning and should take appropriate care," he said.