In some areas of the Wicklow Uplands uncontrolled gorse is becoming a serious problem.
Gorse fires generate massive heat extensively damaging the structure of the soil beneath with a devastating impact on upland habitats.
When a gorse fire takes hold it can spread rapidly and uncontrollably presenting a serious threat to people and property. Luckily there has not been a serious wild gorse fire in Wicklow in the past number of years but in a dry summer a fire can be easily started often burning for a number of days.
Charlotte Rosemond, Acting Communications Officer, Wicklow Uplands Council, says 'controlled rotational burning is an age old practice whereby landowners burn small patches of low vegetation to ensure optimal conditions for grazing and biodiversity. This results in a patchwork of fresh grassland and heather covered areas.
'This practice, when carried out in a controlled and focussed manner is critical to vegetation management of upland environments, providing forage and shelter for sheep while in turn creating habitat structures and food for wildlife.
'Certain species including the Red Grouse need a variety of heather heights to breed and flourish. These controlled burns are fast and burn through vegetation quickly without generating the excessive heat which can damage the soil underneath.'
Uncontrolled wildfires cause devastation to natural habitats and soil and have a detrimental effect on wildlife, birds, forestry and our dwellings. Uncontrolled fires can start in many ways including the careless disposal of cigarettes from car windows, campfires, and discarded glass bottles. Unfortunately some fires are also started intentionally.
In 2013 'A Study to Identify Best Management of Upland Habitats in County Wicklow' was commissioned by Wicklow Uplands Council and launched by the then Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney and is available on the website www.wicklowuplands.ie. One of the recommendations of this study is the establishment of controlled burning groups and it points out the huge disparity between controlled and uncontrolled burning in upland areas.
A workshop facilitated by Wicklow Uplands Council to discuss how to effectively and responsibly use fire as a vegetation management tool was held in February 2016. The discussion was followed by a practical demonstration of how controlled burning works on a nearby upland. This event was attended by over 150 delegates from all over Ireland.