It is “absolutely wrong” that farmers are demonised online for starting fires which they are not responsible for, Minister of State with responsibility for heritage Malcolm Noonan has said.

He told the Irish Farmers Journal at the launch of the €20.6m Wild Atlantic Nature Life project last week: “I am absolutely clear, many of these fires are not being started by farmers and I think it’s absolutely wrong to demonise farmers for what is something that is started maliciously.

“They don’t start by accident. I absolutely defend farmers in the sense that if they are being demonised online, that is absolutely wrong.

“The vast majority of farmers in our upland areas are responsible and want to carry out farming in a responsible way and we want to support them to do that,” he said.

Improving biodiversity

Minister Noonan said projects such as Wild Atlantic Nature, which will pay farmers for improving biodiversity and habitats on their land, are the way forward to reward farmers with results-based schemes for managing biodiversity, water quality and carbon.

Speaking at the project launch in Ballycroy, Co Mayo, Clare farmer Michael Davoren encouraged local farmers to join the project.

“Cheap food can be imported from all over the world. What you’ve got is blanket bog which is in scarce decline across Europe. The taxpayers of Europe are prepared to pay for that scare commodity.

“The only people that can manage that particular blanket bog is you, the farmers. The National Parks & Wildlife Service can’t do it. They need you to do it for them. You have the knowledge,” he said.

Davoren said that now, for the first time ever, farmers in the scheme’s project areas “can be architects of your own destiny and provide an income for yourselves and your families and future generations to come”.

“We’re here in Ballycroy in a community centre, it’s community-based. I’ve no doubt that this project is the factory that you’ve craved for but could never have.”