New restrictions on the Single Payments Scheme to farmers are contributing to the wildfires that have devastated thousands of hectares of Ireland’s countryside, according to 19 Irish environmental groups. In a letter today to the Minister for Agriculture, we point out that as a result of a recent ‘Health Check’ of the Single Payments Scheme made to farmers there is now an economic incentive for farmers to burn scrub land.

 

While hedgerows are protected, we point out that new rules require areas of scrub and even any part of hedgerows growing into fields to be removed or marked on the farmer’s application and excluded from payments. Only ‘utilisable areas’ are eligible for payment. The farmers have been warned that areal photography and satellite images will be used in the inspections required by the European Commission. We have asked the Minister to ensure the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture Single Payments Unit work together to provide a scheme to promote the management of these scrub areas.

 

Letter to the Minister   |   Submission to the Forest Service     Press Release    | Radio Debate with the IFA [20 mb]


PRESS RELEASE
24 MAY 2010

GRANTS ‘FORCING FARMERS TO BURN'

New restrictions on the Single Payments Scheme to farmers are contributing to the wildfires that have devastated thousands of hectares of Ireland's countryside, according to 19 Irish environmental groups.

In a letter today to the Minister for Agriculture, the groups have claimed that as a result of a recent ‘Health Check' of the Single Payments Scheme made to farmers, there is now an economic incentive for farmers to burn scrub land.

While hedgerows are protected, the NGOs point out that new rules require areas of scrub and even any part of hedgerows growing into fields to be removed or marked on the farmer's application and excluded from payments. Only ‘utilisable areas' are eligible for payment. The farmers have been warned that areal photography and satellite images will be used in the inspections required by the European Commission.

The environmentalists have asked the Minister to ensure the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture Single Payments Unit work together to provide a scheme to promote the management of these scrub areas, transferring them from Single Payments to Forestry Premiums.

In their letter, the groups point out that ‘Scrub is a transitional woodland that is recognised as part of the national forestry inventory, occupying as much as 15% of some counties' forestry areas. It provides a vital sanctuary for wildlife, a carbon store, and a potential source of renewable fuel. These scrub woods are composed of broadleaf trees which do not burn and can in fact protect dwellings from these devastating conflagrations.'

Coillte Teo. estimates that so far this year 350 fires have destroyed more than 1600 acres of their forestry with the private sector losing a similar amount. The value of the loss to Coillte alone this year is estimated at between €2 and €13 million, depending on the age of the plantation.

Nail Hatch of BirdWatch Ireland says that ‘The impact on birds this year has been particularly severe, as thousands of nestlings will have perished in the fires or will face slow starvation as their main foraging areas have been destroyed. Populations of birds such as Stonechats, Wrens and Song Thrushes, already decimated by the cold weather in January, are amongst the worst affected by these clearances, and returning migrants such as Whitethroats, a specialist of this type of habitat, will also have been badly affected.'

Although burning has traditionally been used as a management tool to keep land open, it has adverse environmental impacts.

Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment, who are coordinating the NGOs lobbying, said that ‘Aside from the impact on birds and wildlife, the land is eroded by heavy rainfall on soils exposed by these fires. The burning contributes to carbon emissions and is illegal under the Air Pollution Act 1987 as it is ‘injurious to public health', has ‘a deleterious effect on flora or fauna', and may ‘damage property, or impair or interfere with amenities or with the environment'.

The NGOs say that the fact that grant aid is no longer dependent on the number of animals has resulted in more areas being ungrazed and beginning to revert to scrub. The IFA has cited the fact that the date until which they are allowed to burn was shorted by 6 weeks under the Wildlife Act 2000, claiming that this has contributed to a build up of wildfire fuel. ‘Even climate change may be contributing to the increase in fires as drier summers will encourage the spread of gorse on peaty soils', said Lowes.

Other NGOs supporting the call include An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, VOICE, the Irish Wildlife Trust, Bat Conservation Ireland, CELT, five forestry groups, and the energy group Grian.

The NGOs' letter concludes that ‘While there may be many reasons for this year's wildfires, the economic incentive for farmers to use burning as a land management tool must be ended - while still protecting farmer's incomes.'


Further information:
Birdwatch Ireland: Niall Hatch 01 2819878.
Friends of the Irish Environment: Tony Lowes 087 2176316 / 027 74771

Signatures:
An Taisce; Bat Conservation Ireland; BirdWatch Ireland; CELT; Feasta; Forest Friends; Friends of the Earth; FIE; Grian; Hedge Layers Association of Ireland; Irish Natural Forestry Foundation; rish Seal Sanctuary; Irish Seed Savers; Irish Wildlife Trust; Just Forests; Native Woodland Trust; VOICE; Woodlands of Ireland; Sonairte

Letter to the Minister
http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/cmsfiles/files/library/scrub_minister_21.05.10.pdf

Submission to the Forest Service
http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/friendswork/index.php?do=friendswork&action=view&id=840

This Press Release
http://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/friendswork/index.php?do=friendswork&action=view&id=842

 

  • No comments found
Add comment