Farmers whose land was damaged by recent wildfires will have a nervous wait to see if their cheques from the Basic Payment Scheme and other area-based schemes are cut because of the land damage.
Forestry Minister Andrew Doyle has confirmed officials in the Department of Agriculture are analysing satellite imagery to identify land burnt illegally during the closed season for burning.
He said historic satellite imagery is also being examined.
“Agricultural and eligible forestry land identified as burnt illegally as part of this investigation will be deemed ineligible for payment under the 2017 Basic Payment and other area-based schemes.”
He advised farmers and their advisers, who have agricultural and eligible forestry land which was burned illegally but which was included in their 2017 Basic Payment Scheme application already submitted to the Department, to remove this land by means of an amendment form.
Amendments can be made up to May 31 without penalty, but are penalised 1% for each working day up to June 9, the last day amendments can be accepted.
Inclusion of illegally burnt land in the BPS application may result in reduced payment and penalties. As part of the current investigation, the burnt lands may be inspected by department officials.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said recently: “I would like to remind farmers that where land has been burned, it is not generally eligible for Basic Payment.
“This is clearly stated in my department’s literature on land eligibility issued to farmers”.
The only exception is where controlled burning is carried out in full compliance with all relevant environmental legislative requirements and any other lawful requirements, having first consulted with and notified the Gardaí and the local fire service.
In the case of Natura lands (lands designated as SAC and/or SPA), prior approval must be obtained through the Activities Requiring Consent (ARC) system as implemented by NPWS.
Commenting on the recent gorse fires throughout the country, Mr Creed said; “These fires are monitored through a combination of EU Copernicus and US NASA data streams which have detected over 50 illegal fire locations using satellite data up to April 21, 2017. “
Along with farmers losing payments, individuals found to burn vegetation within the prohibited period from March 1 to August 31 are liable to prosecution by An Garda Síochána or by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, for the offence under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act, 1976 of burning vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated.
Mr Doyle advised forest owners and forest managers to check their fire plans and to ensure that firebreaks are clear of flammable vegetation and forest access routes are clear of obstructions.
He visited the Cloosh Valley near Oughterard, Co Galway, where 1,500 hectares of forestry and 1,000 hectares of bogland were burnt from May 6 to May 11. Galway Wind Park, Ireland’s largest wind farm, was put at risk.
Further north, is it estimated 4,000 acres in Sligo were destroyed by fire around Killery Mountain. It destroyed about 500m of the Sligo Way, a 34km walking trail.
As a result, the Sligo Camino walking event in July, for which up to 1,000 participants have already pre-booked, has been threatened. The fire damaged a boardwalk on privately owned commonage, which was developed jointly by Sligo County Council and the Sligo Leader programme.