A Co. Galway landowner has been fined €750 and disqualified from driving for two years after being convicted of illegal burning during the bird nesting season.
66-year-old Gerry Roche, with addresses at Monivea Park, Co. Galway and 24 Bayview Rise, Ballybane, Co. Galway, appeared before Clifden District Court on May 26.
He entered a guilty plea to charge of burning vegetation under Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts which prohibits the destruction of vegetation on lands not then cultivated between March 1 and August 31.
The case was brought by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
Galway land burned
Galway County Council community warden, Máirtín O’Mainín, and NPWS conservation ranger, Aonghus O’Donaill outlined the facts of the case to Judge Alan Mitchell.
The court heard that the offence occurred on lands at Gowla, Cashel, Co. Galway on June 5, 2020 when a Condition Orange fire warning was in place.
O’Máinín said that he observed smoke with gorse and vegetation on fire.
He spoke with Roche at the site who admitted responsibility for starting the fire that morning but stated that it had got out of control.
Three units of Galway Fire Service worked to extinguish the fire which at one point came within a few metres of a house. O’Mainín said that the resident feared her home would be burned down.
The court heard the cost of the callout to the fire service was €1,400.
O’Donaill outlined that 1.5ac of heath and scrub vegetation were destroyed by the fire.
He said that wildfires would not only affect breeding birds but are catastrophic for every living thing that could not escape the flames.
Judge Alan Mitchell enquired about the penalties for the offence; this was outlined as a ‘Class A’ fine, up to a maximum of €5,000.
The judge stated that these penalties were not severe enough and it was surprising to the court that only a fine was available.
He said that this did not seem much of a deterrent and that if somebody received a six or eight-month jail sentence word would soon filter out as to the seriousness of the matter.
The judge added that burning is happening too often and a serious view has to be taken on the ‘laissez faire’ attitude to people burning vegetation.
Judge Mitchell convicted and fined Roche €750 and awarded costs of €605.
He also handed down a two-year driving disqualification in connection with the use of a vehicle in the offence and fixed recognisances for an appeal at €1,000, to be entered within 14 days.
The judge said that people should be aware that if they use a vehicle in the commission of an offence they will also face a disqualification.
The NPWS welcomed the decision of the court and Judge Mitchell’s comments on the seriousness of the issue of burning vegetation during bird nesting season.
“Deliberate burning can be regarded as a traditional practice in some areas to manage scrub and promote better grazing opportunities.
“The NPWS considers that wildfires are a major threat to Ireland’s biodiversity and is committed to tackling the issue with the resources available, including increased dedicated patrols during high-risk periods,” a spokesperson commented.