The Ring of Gullion AONB project is saddened to report that a large wildfire on Slieve Brack has done extensive damage to the heath habitat, a habitat of international significance. Nesting birds, frogs, newts and lots of other species will have been affected.
The fire which occurred on Sunday night was attended by NIFRS. The Fire Service is still investigating the fire.
The Ring of Gullion AONB Officer said “This fire has destroyed important habitats, left wildlife with no homes or a food source and the damage caused, risks the economical income coming into the area. The Ring of Gullion has attracted tourism from across the world. Visitors want to walk the mountains for their beauty and the unspoilt environment – this could now under risk due to this fire”.
Contrary to the belief that wildfires are sparked by hot, dry weather, most of them occur in the spring. Winter frost leaves undergrowth too dry, meaning the fires can start easily and spread quickly, causing widespread damage throughout the countryside, as is the case with this fire. At times the damage is irreparable. According to fire service figures, between 2012 and 2014, there were 5,002 incidents classed as wildfires across Northern Ireland. 4,584 of these fires were deemed to have been started deliberately.
Whether started accidentally or deliberately wildfires are extremely dangerous and can spread rapidly. The law states that burning of vegetation such as heather, gorse, whin or fern must not be carried out between 15 April and 31 August and only carried out at other times of the year under controlled and expert supervision i.e. with NIFRS guidance.
The Ring of Gullion AONB is urging members of the public enjoying the countryside to be both vigilant and careful over the coming weeks and to report unattended fires to the NI Fire and Rescue Service.
In DARDs 2016 Guide to Land Eligibility document on page 36 it states:
If more than 20% of the heath on a field is burned and/or flailed in one management season, then the entire area of burned and/or flailed heath is ineligible (see example 4). Consent is required from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency NIEA before burning/flailing heath on designated sites, for example, Natura 2000 sit e, SPA, SAC or ASSI. Burning is not permitted on blanket bog. Blanket bog occurs on deep peat deposits over 0.5 metres deep. The average depth is 2 – 3 metres and it is normally found on areas over 200 metres above sea level. Areas which have been burned or flailed on heaths consisting entirely of mature heather or where there is no significant agricultural activity are ineligible. In these cases the entire area of the heath is ineligible
Picture credit: Forkhill Facebook page