A judge has handed a €750 fine and a two-year disqualification from driving for burning vegetation during the bird nesting season to a landowner.
Mr. Gerry Roche, of Monivea Park, Co. Galway appeared before Clifden District Court on May 26th, 2022, in connection with a Wildlife Act conviction.
He entered a plea via his solicitor to a burning of vegetation offence under Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts.
Section 40(1)(a) relates to the destruction of vegetation on lands not then cultivated during the statutory bird nesting season that runs from March 1st to August 31st, 2022, every year.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage took the case that Sinead Fitzpatrick of Kennedy Fitzgerald State Solicitor for County Galway West prosecuted.
Galway County Council Community Warden, Máirtín O’Mainín, and Conservation Ranger, Aonghus O’Donaill, NPWS, outlined the facts of the case to Judge Alan Mitchell.
The offence occurred on lands at Gowla, Cashel, Co. Galway on June 5th, 2020.
Mr O’Máinín observed smoke with gorse and vegetation on fire. He spoke with Mr. 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 County Galway Fire Service were on site extinguishing the fire that, at one stage, came within a few metres of a dwelling.
Mr. O’Mainín said the resident “feared her home would be burned down”. Furthermore, the court heard that there was a cost of €1,400 to the fire service.
The fire was during an extended period of dry weather. The DAFM had issued a forest fire danger rating of condition red or extreme fire risk until 1st June, with a condition orange in place on the date the fire was deliberately started.
Conservation Ranger, Aonghus O’Donaill, outlined to the court NPWS officers’ subsequent interview and caution of Mr. Roche in relation to the offence.
The court heard that the fire had destroyed 1.5-acres of heath and scrub vegetation, and Mr. O’Donaill outlined to the court how not only breeding birds would have been affected but that wildfires are “catastrophic for every living thing that could not run or fly away from the flames”.
Furthermore, he stated that the habitats impacted would take a long period of time to recover their biodiversity value.
Penalties for offence
Judge Mitchell enquired about the penalties for the offence. These were outlined as a Class A fine or up to a maximum of €5,000.
He stated that these penalties were “not severe enough”. He was it was “surprising” to the court that only a fine was available.
The judge stated that “this did not seem much of a deterrent”. “If somebody received a 6 or 8-month sentence, word would soon filter out as to the seriousness of the matter”.
He stated that burning is happening too often, and a serious view has to be taken on the “laissez-faire attitude” to people burning vegetation.
Fine and driving disqualification
Judge Mitchell then convicted and fined Mr. Roche €750 on the Section 40 charge and awarded costs of €605.
He also applied an ancillary driving disqualification of two years on Mr. Roche 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.
He explained 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 welcomes the court’s decision and Judge Mitchell’s comments on the seriousness of the issue of burning vegetation during bird nesting season.
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