No landowners penalised for illegal gorse fires, says wildlife trust

Use of satellite imagery by Department of Agriculture has not resulted in prosecutions

The use of satellite technology to penalise landowners found burning gorse has failed to result in a single prosecution, documents released under Freedom of Information show.

Thousands of satellite images are consulted each year by Department of Agriculture officials to determine if land is being farmed and the images have, since March 2016, been used to keep watch of controlled burning on farm land.

Pádraic Fogarty, the Irish Wildlife Trust’s campaign officer, said the group lodged Freedom of Information requests to see how much controlled burning goes on in Ireland.

“There was one place last year,” he said, adding that “controlled burning doesn’t happen in Ireland – it is not part of farming culture”.

Despite an announcement by the department in March 2016 that it was to deploy satellite technology to identify and penalise landowners caught burning illegally during the prohibited period of March 1st to August 31st, “nobody has been penalised,” said Mr Fogarty.

While the Department of Agriculture did not penalise any landowners, it did receive information on a number of incidents from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) but could not meet the necessary level of proof to penalise anyone. It is also assisting the NPWS and gardaí with an investigation in Co Kerry.

There was no response from the Department of Agriculture when asked aout the number of penalties for illegal burning.

Mr Fogarty pointed to the political silence on the issue despite “about two months” of harmful gorse fires.

However, on Tuesday night Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and Minister for Rural Affairs Heather Humphreys issued a statemnt in which they said people found burning vegetation within the prohibited period are liable to prosecution by gardaí or the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Mr Fogarty said most fires are started deliberately to clear land for grazing as required for subsidies. “You and I are paying for this burning to happen, we are spending billions on subsidies,” he said.