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Over €6m was spent by State tackling gorse fires in recent years


Between 2010-2015 the cost to the exchequer of tackling over 6,743 gorse, forest and bog fires in 10 counties amounted to over €6m.

The figures were obtained by BirdWatch Ireland which has condemned the illegal fires which have raged in many parts of the country in recent weeks.

It says thousands of hectares of mountain, hill, bog and forest habitat have been destroyed already this year, incinerating the wildlife that cannot escape fast enough, including helpless chicks in their nests, or animals which find themselves caught between flames and fences.

These damaging fires happen every year and little is being done to prevent them, it says.

From 2010 to 2015, inclusive, more than 21,000 gorse/forest/bog fires were tackled by the fire service, according to data on the website of the Department of Housing, Community and Local Government.

A Freedom of Information request by BirdWatch Ireland to all local authorities in 2016 resulted in the provision of data from 10 local authorities showing that the cost of deploying the fire service to tackle 6,743 gorse/forest/bog fires in these counties during this time period amounted to more than €6m.

These costs mainly relate to the wages of fire service personnel.

Birdwatch Ireland said there is also no doubt that these fires are diverting the attention of the fire service from urban centres and other emergencies and costing the exchequer a substantial amount of money.

Other costs, which are harder to quantify in monetary terms, include those to our birds, habitats and other biodiversity, it says.

Birds’ nests, eggs and chicks are the main casualties. In most cases the parents can fly away but might not breed again this season and will often find themselves with no suitable nesting territory.

 Previous Government reports to the European Commission show that priority habitats, including Blanket Bog, Wet Heath and Dry Heath, are under pressure from burning.

Today we heard the news that two active Hen Harrier nests were destroyed yesterday in the Sliabh Beagh Special Protection Area (SPA). This SPA is shared between Counties Monaghan and Tyrone. The Hen Harrier is an internationally protected species which is already in decline in Ireland. It is reliant upon key SPAs that have been designated purely for its protection, but these sites too are at risk.

Birdwatch Ireland says the fires in question are mostly set deliberately, either maliciously or with the intent to clear vegetation from land.

It says there has been little or no enforcement of the regulations, both national and EU Directives, afforded to protect wildlife and habitats including those that are internationally important and with special EU protection.

“Dedicated, coordinated and, crucially, resourced interdepartmental action is urgently required by government to prevent illegal and out-of-control gorse fires during the critical periods for wildlife, such as the breeding season for birds, and to enforce the regulations which already exist.

“The current proposal by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs contained in the Heritage Bill to extend by a month the allowable period for burning would be reckless, and we call on the Minister to scrap this proposal.

“It will bring further havoc to breeding birds and do nothing to stop fires like those witnessed since March 1,” it said

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