Complaint sent to EU over Ireland’s failure to tackle illegal wild fires

Published by Niall Sargent on

September 13th, 2017

The Irish Wildlife Trust has written to the European Commission about Ireland’s failure to tackle illegal wild fires and protect threatened wildlife in our uplands as required under the Birds and Habitats Directives.

In its formal complaint to the Commission, the conservation charity presented evidence of 97 illegal wild fires started between 24 March and 22 May 2017 across 19 counties.

It is currently an offense under the Wildlife Act to burn any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated from 1 March to 31 August.

Forty per cent of the fires occurred in sites with special protection or conservation status, including Killarney National Park, Wicklow Mountains National Park and the Ox Mountains in Co Sligo.

All hill habitats assessed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service have been designated as being in ‘bad’ condition, the IWF complaint continues, leaving once common upland birds such as the Curlew, Golden Eagle, and Hen Harrier threatened with extinction.

In June, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, TD announced that almost half of all gorse fires in the Republic since the start of the prohibited period on 1 March 2017 were deliberately started.

Minister Creed’s comments came after a series of large fires raged in counties Cork, Cavan, Sligo, Galway, Kildare, Mayo, Monaghan and Wicklow in last April and early May.

Yet, according to IWT Campaign Officer Pádraic Fogarty, politicians have yet to act appropriately to protect our mountains which have “suffered an ecological catastrophe over the past 50 years”.

Documents released to the IWF under Freedom of Information legislation early this year revealed that the use of satellite images to monitor burning on farmland had not led to any prosecutions since its introduction in March 2016.

“Landscapes and nature have been replaced with scorched land and plantations, which contribute to carbon emissions, pollution, erosion, flooding, loss of scenic value and livelihoods,” Mr Fogarty added. “This has happened not because of lack of resources or uncertain science – but a lack of political will.”

He said that policy measures such as removing the requirement for farmers in uplands to have vegetation at “grazable height” would dramatically reduce the levels of fires in future.

He also called for the Government to design new supports for rewilding the land, high nature value farming, and sustainable grazing systems alongside the re-establishment of native woodlands.

In June, wildfire investigators from the European Forest Institute and European Forest Risk Facility joined forces with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to investigative the origin of almost one thousand gorse fires which raged across Northern Ireland in May.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London