independent

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Laws must be enforced to keep fires in check

A Bray fireman watches the progress of gorse fires on the Big Sugarloaf with binoculars
A Bray fireman watches the progress of gorse fires on the Big Sugarloaf with binoculars

Myles Buchanan

The recent outbreak of a series of gorse fires has caused huge levels of devastation to forestry and wildlife while also putting the lives of people at risk.

Untold amounts of destruction took place at two of the most picturesque locations Ireland has to offer, the Sally Gap and Killarney National Park, as fires raged away over a prolonged period.

Several hundred acres of forestry was destroyed in Wicklow, while 300,000 newly planted tress were also burnt to a cinder. In Killarney, there was damage to thousands of trees, while important habitats were also lost.

Now the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) wants the Government to clamp down on illegal fires by enforcing the Wildlife Act.

Padraic Fogarty, IWT Campaign Officer, said, 'due to the narrow and unworkable rules in relation to farming subsidies, large tracts of our uplands are burnt to keep land clear of undesirable 'scrub', otherwise known as wildlife habitats.

2015 has seen fires on an unprecedented scale with large tracts of our hills now burnt black and scarred, upland wildlife killed and people's homes and lives put at risk.

'A lot of the wildlife up in the Wicklow uplands and mountains area are already gone at this stage. An area can recover from one fire but year after year after year of fires leaves no time for any recovery. Birds like the Ring Ouzel, the Nightjar and the Hen Harrier were once plentiful up in the Wicklow uplands but now there haven't been any confirmed sightings in some years. Wicklow should be perfect for a bid like the Hen Harrier because the county has the largest upland area in the country. Continued disturbances means nesting no longer takes place there. Some fires are started maliciously, some accidentally and some by farmers.'

Prior to the recession, agricultural inspectors regularly visited the sites where fires took place and docked single-farm payments if a farmer was found to be responsible for starting a fire when burning was prohibited. This resulted in a notable reduction in the number of reported fire outbreaks in rural locations. However, these inspections soon dropped once the economy collapsed.

Padraic said 'the Government needs to enforce the Wildlife Act and suspend single farm payments to land owners who break the law by burning inside the closed season. We need a complete overhaul of agricultural subsidies in our uplands; moving away from a purely food production based output to a more multi-functional system that recognises the value of a healthy environment and the social benefits that our uplands provide through flood protection, water purification, carbon storage and recreation. We need to support our farmers in restoring our upland bogs, heath and native forests. Personally the IWT would love to see new areas of forests planted to protect the natural habitat. Also farmers could be paid to manage the country side and to maintain trails for visitors.'

Bray People

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