FOLLOWING A spate of gorse fires in the province, Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs has outlined a number of important messages for farmers still wanting to claim area-based farm support on burnt land.

"While this can be a challenging situation for farmers and land owners, they need to ensure that they take the right actions now to safeguard their payments under area based schemes," said a DAERA spokesperson.

"EU rules only allow payment on land that is eligible, therefore, if you have been affected by a gorse fire you should apply to DAERA within 15 working days of the fire, or when the farm business is in a position to do so, for consideration for 'force majeure'.

"You will have to demonstrate that land has become ineligible as a result of a gorse fire and that the circumstances of the fire were unforeseen. To do this, you are advised to immediately contact Area-Based Schemes Payment Branch on: 0300 200 7848."

Farmers wishing to invoke 'force majeure' will have to fill in an application form and return it to their Area-Based Schemes payment branch, where each request will be looked at individually to confirm that, despite the farmer taking all reasonable measures to counteract their effects, the force majeure or exceptional circumstances prevented them from meeting their obligations.

"You will be asked for information, supported by evidence where appropriate, of the steps you have taken to prevent or lessen the effect of these circumstances," said DAERA. "Each case is considered on an individual basis and it is important that farmers details all the facts, including where and when the fire started and when the incident was reported to the police or the Fire and Rescue Service.

"Telling us now will allow us to help ensure that farmers do not lose money unnecessarily."

More information on force majeure and its relevance to those claiming area based scheme payments is contained within the 'Guide to the Basic Payments Scheme 2018' (Page 38) which can be accessed via the DAERA Website: