Officials from the Scottish Government’s Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (SGRPID) are considering how to deal with what must be one of the biggest ever infringements of its rules.
It follows the unauthorised removal of thousands of metres of dry stone walls (drystane dykes) on a large arable farm in Fife.
Payment of support under the Common Agricultural Policy is conditional on applicants observing the rules of Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC), with one of the most stringent of the rules, GAEC 7, stating: “You must not remove or destroy drystane or flagstone dykes, turf and stonefaced banks, walls, hedges, ponds, watercourses or trees, without the prior written consent of the Scottish Ministers.”
It seems, however, the Orr family, which farms the 275-hectare Pitlochie Farm, near Gateside, Fife, has either been unaware of the rule or ignored it and, over the winter, have removed almost all of the dry stone walls on the farm. An estimated 8,000 metres (about five miles) of dykes have been removed.
It is believed these strongly constructed walls date back to the enclosure of the fields in the early 1800s.
Virtually all the internal field divisions have been removed. In one area, eight fields previously averaging more than 7ha has become one field of 57ha.
While some members of the farming community have seen this as a move towards more efficient farming, most local opinion was against, with one neighbour calling it ‘wholesale devastation’.
Neighbour Andrew Craig said: “The industrial scale environmental destruction wrought on the natural heritage and local biodiversity is appalling. The rural fabric of this attractive part of the countryside has been decimated, leaving a sterile landscape void of any wildlife, which is morally wrong.”
St Andrews farmer Henry Cheape added: “There is a wider impact for the rest of us from this.
“It is a visual and environmental issue. I have no negative feelings towards the Orr family, but I do feel, as farmers, we have to be sensitive to the public reaction to this sort of activity.”
The Orr family purchased Pitlochie in 2016.
James Orr said: “There is an ongoing inspection from SGRPID. I cannot comment until it is finished.”
Scottish Government acknowledged that an inspection was underway, but declined to comment on a live case.
Is the farmer likely to be fined?
THE sanctions available are not exactly defined, but there could be a disallowance of between 15 per cent and 100 per cent applied to the Basic Payment Scheme.
The penalty matrix distinguishes between intentional and negligent actions, as well as high, medium and low impacts.
However it seems that apart from GEAC 7, there are no other regulations preventing the removal of dry stone walls.
Scottish National Heritage said it had no powers over removal of features such as dry stone walls.
Historic Environment Scotland said it had no authority on the matter.