27 March 2020
By Bryan Smyth
The North County Cork based Minister for Agriculture, Food & the Marine, Michael Creed T.D. has issued a strong warning to landowners not to carry out any illegal burning of land.
- It is an offence under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act, 1976 (amended by Section 46 of the Wildlife Act, 2000) to burn, from 01 March to 31 August in any year, any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated.
The Minister said “Given the current emergency arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that no one should start an illegal fire in the countryside. Such activity will cause unnecessary diversions of emergency service resources. Wildfires put homes and livelihoods at direct risk and cause considerable disruption to rural communities and habitats. At any time but particularly in the current emergency, such disturbance to rural dwellers, including those who are old and vulnerable, cannot be permitted under any circumstances.”
The Minister’s Department has activated its Fire Danger Rating System and the Minister advises that Forest owners and managers should check and update fire plans and other relevant contingencies such as insurance, firebreaks, access and water points, helicopter contracts etc., so as to be prepared well in advance of high fire risk phases.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht also wishes to remind landowners and the public about the importance of closed season for the setting of fires. In spring and early summer it is prime season for nesting birds, breeding mammals and the regeneration of growth and habitats after the winter period. The NPWS confirmed that they will be also be deploying electronic and other surveillance in the vicinity of national parks and reserves.
There has been a very significant increase in the use of outdoor amenities and recreation sites by the public since the onset of Covid-19 measures nationally. There is an increased risk of fire associated with this in upland areas. Forest users and visitors are asked to behave responsibly, observe correct physical distancing practice and to park considerately so as not to impede access of emergency vehicles to sites.
There is also a firm link between wildfire ignitions and illegal dumping and burning of domestic waste in many areas, and malicious burning at forest amenity sites and turf bogs open to the public. The Department asks all countryside users to be vigilant, to report any suspicious activity to An Garda Síochána, and to report any uncontrolled or unattended fires immediately to the Fire and Emergency Services via 112/999 service.
The Department is issuing a warning to all landowners in relation to illegal burning, and the serious risks posed to land eligibility and payments under agricultural schemes following illegally set fires.
If you burn land between the 01 March and 31 August :
- You risk prosecution, fines and potential imprisonment
- Such land will no longer be eligible for payment under the Basic Payment Scheme and other area-based schemes;
- Inclusion of illegally burnt land in the 2020 Basic Payment Scheme application may result in reduced payment and penalties under this scheme and the other area-based schemes, e.g. Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme;
- Illegal burning can also render the land of your neighbours ineligible for payment;
- Where it is identified that lands were burnt during the closed season this may result in such land being inspected by Department officials
The Minister stated “This is an unprecedented time in Ireland and everyone must play their part in supporting our emergency services and ensuring they are not needlessly diverted. Both farmers and the wider public, whether they are at work or enjoying the countryside, should be mindful of the significant risks of fire at this time of year and be aware of the damage to land and habitats caused by illegal burning.
Facts & Figures
Upland vegetation can be highly flammable in Spring weather conditions in Ireland, until new green vegetation emerges in late spring and early summer. The burning of vegetation is controlled by the Wildlife Acts. It is an offence under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act, 1976 (amended by Section 46 of the Wildlife Act, 2000) to burn, from 01 March to 31 August in any year, any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated. Individuals who are found to burn vegetation within that prohibited period are liable to prosecution by An Garda Síochána or by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). DAFM has no role in regard to prosecutions.
Applicants under the Basic Payment Scheme and other area-based schemes are obliged to comply with Cross Compliance which includes requirements in relation to the burning of vegetation and the consequential damage to designated land. Where an applicant is found, at inspection or on receipt of a Cross Report from NPWS, to have been responsible for breaching these requirements a penalty can be applied to payments due under these schemes.
Land found to have been burned during the specified closed season for burning is considered automatically ineligible under the various support schemes
Fire warnings and other advice can be accessed at: https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/forestservice/firemanagement/ and https://www.teagasc.ie/crops/forestry/forest-fire-risk/
Mayor of the County of Cork Councillor Ian Doyle commenting on recent fires said,
“Now, more than ever, we need to consider how our actions affect our own wellbeing, that of the community, and the nation. This pandemic has revealed just how connected we are and it is essential that we all do our part to protect the public health.”
“The lives of property owners, people on the land and our front line emergency personnel, who are already under pressure, are endangered by illegal fires. Everyone in our community needs to be mindful of how their actions can affect the lives of others. Now is the time for solidarity and observance of the law and of guidelines set out by the HSE. We all need to do everything we can to allow our emergency services to respond to the situation at hand.”