Wildfire worries could halt hill-walking on farmers’ land

Farmers could be forced to restrict public access to their land due to wildfire fears, a farmers’ organisation has warned.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has been called upon to retract his recent statement, which will see farmers held responsible for wildfires they have not lit, by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).

Chairman of the Mayo INHFA Gerry Loftus said that, if farmers are held responsible, “the only sensible action for farmers will be to restrict access to their property – which will clearly impact on hill walking”.

As things currently stand, Loftus said: “We have a situation in my own county where farmers have payments held up due to a fire which none of them had anything to do with and where a non-farmer has been convicted of lighting the fire – albeit by accident.

Unfortunately the farmers are the ones that continue to suffer, and while these farmers and others like them need to have their monies paid out, all farmers will now need to assess what public access to their property means.”

As Mayo Chair of the INHFA he added: “I am very conscious of the impact that this could have on our tourism sector and would hope that the minister and his officials will see the mistake that this threat is before we get to the point of seeing these hills closed.

“This however is for the Minister and his officials to decide on. If he removes the threat of penalising farmers for fires they have not lit, then this will reassure farmers that they have nothing to fear from the public accessing their land.

“If he doesn’t remove this threat, then minister, it will be you and your advisors that will have closed the hills,” Loftus said.

Burnt land ineligible

Last year, illegally burnt agricultural or forestry land had to be removed from Basic Payment Scheme applications, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The burning of land during the closed period – March 1 to August 31 – is deemed illegal, the Minister of State at the department Andrew Doyle said at the time.

Agricultural and forestry land which had been burnt illegally was not eligible for payment under the BPS scheme, or any other area-based schemes, he added.

Meanwhile, the inclusion of illegally burnt land in a BPS application may result in reduced payment and penalties under the scheme and other area-based schemes, such as the Areas of Natural Constraints (ANC) scheme.