Scottish Government investigating Fife farm over dykes removal

MSP Willie Rennie described the penalty as 'tame'.
MSP Willie Rennie described the penalty as 'tame'.

A north east Fife farm is being investigated by the Scottish Government after six miles of drystone dykes were removed.

Pitlochie Farming Co Ltd, near Gateside, was handed a 75 per cent penalty on support scheme payments earlier this year after it was established it had breached requirements by removing the dykes.

It is understood this is the highest level of penalty that has been applied for a breach of the Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition since cross compliance came into force in 2005.

Now, an investigation has been launched because of a suspected breach under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations.

The removal of the dykes had been described at the time as “environmental destruction”. Concerns had been voiced that the removal of the dykes would change the local landscape.

MSP Willie Rennie had described the earlier penalty as “tame” and had called for the reinstatement of the dykes.

“Although I am disappointed that the government doesn’t feel it appropriate to fine Mr Orr more than 75 per cent of his farm payment, I am pleased that he is being investigated under the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations,” said Mr Rennie.

“Whatever his justification for the removal of the walls, it was a flagrant disregard for the rules which every farmer works hard to comply with.

“It’s also had a significant impact on the biodiversity and the local landscape. The government must explore every avenue of the law to make sure this is never repeated.”

However, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, MSP Fergus Ewing argued that the penalty was not “insufficient”.

He wrote to Mr Rennie: “With the current pressure on farm gate prices a penalty of this scale would represent a very significant reduction in the total farm income of any agricultural business and therefore I don’t agree that the penalty is insufficient.”

The Pitlochie Farm owners could not be reached for comment.