Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett won’t “turn a blind eye” to farmers burning bushes.
She said that while “burning bushes is legal”, “doing it during a high fire risk warning and during the nesting season is not right”.
Minister Hackett made her comments on social media on Monday following criticism of a video she posted on Saturday where she is seen standing on a road overlooking a farm where green waste appears to be burning.
Highlighting that there was a “high risk fire warning in operation” at the weekend, she said “burning bushes today is not acceptable”.
I am the Minister for Land Use and Biodiversity, and I will call out bad & needless practice when I see it. Some might turn a blind eye - I won’t. Why would I? I regularly highlight positive actions, and I can assure you all that those are much more satisfying to report. 1/10— Pippa Hackett (@pippa_hackett) March 28, 2022
“We are also in the nesting season and birds are sitting on nests in this area. This is so wrong on so many levels,” she said.
Trial by social media
Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) deputy president Brian Rushe, who criticised Minister Hackett’s post on social media, said: “In the time it would have taken to take and post that video, [the minister] could have gone down to the farm to raise her concerns to the farmer in question. She could have done that rather than allowing a trial by social media.”
He said that the burning of bushes is “completely legal” with a permit and that it is clear from the minister’s post that the green waste had been cut before the 1 March, “otherwise it wouldn’t have burned”.
I can only assume the minister has confirmed the landowner in question is operating without a permit before she took and posted this video. The area and the landowner is easily identifiable. https://t.co/WmqQ1U4OKK— Brian Rushe (@brianrushe81) March 26, 2022
While Rushe said there are legitimate concerns from some hill farmers on burning activity over the weekend, “this is a completely different issue”.
“It was obviously a controlled burn. From the video, you can see that the landowner is tending to it,” he said.
He said that he knows the area and community well and was therefore “annoyed at a lot of levels” for the farm family following the minister’s conduct.
In February, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), a department headed by Minister’s Hackett’s colleague and Green Party leader Minister Eamon Ryan, clarified to the Irish Farmers Journal that farmers will be able to burn green waste throughout the year once a permit is granted, despite initial indications that burning would not be allowed during the bird nesting season under the latest derogation.
While burning is allowed all year, cutting is not allowed between the end of February and September, the bird nesting season.
This means that green waste, cut before 1 March, can be burned at any time of the year, as long as the farmer has a permit.
If burning green waste, farmers should also inform the fire service in advance of the activity.
Met Éireann and the Department of Agriculture had also issued an orange forest fire warning to warn farmers and landowners of the dangers of burning activity during the weekend’s warmer weather.
Defending her post on Saturday, Minister Hackett said: “I am the minister for land use and biodiversity, and I will call out bad and needless practice when I see it.”
She said that while “certain actions” by farmers and public bodies in relation to green waste “are sometimes necessary and indeed legal”, “that does not mean it is always the right thing to do”.
“Birds such as blackbird, robin and wren will often nest in bushes piled up in the spring. Hedgehogs too may seek hibernation in such habitats over the winter.”
The minister said she will be asking her Department to “look into how we can turn this burning issue into something more positive for nature”.