Extension of public consultation on upland burning welcomed

Published by Niall Sargent on

January 9th, 2019

The Government’s decision to extend a public consultation on controversial upland burning regulations has been welcomed by an environmental coalition that earlier raised concern over holding the consultation during the Christmas holidays.

The draft regulations under the Heritage Act seek to extend the open period for the burning of vegetation by one month to include the month of March.

The move comes despite deep concerns from biodiversity experts that it could have a devastating impact on breeding birds such as the near extinct curlew that begins its nesting activities in March, but also other bird species that nest in scrub.

The consultation process was launched on 21 December 2018 by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, with the original deadline set for 18 January 2019.

Yesterday, however, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht extended the closing date for submissions to 5pm on Thursday, 31 January 2019.

This follows a letter sent on Monday by the Environmental Pillar – a coalition of national environmental NGOs – to the Minister for Heritage Josepha Madigan TD outlining concern with the original deadline and asking for it to be extended until the end of January.

According to the Pillar’s letter, the original deadline would have effectively reduced the consultation period to just two weeks over a busy festive season that included the Christmas and New Year break.

Forest fire burning in Slieve Bloom mountains, 4 July 2018 Photo: Ricky Whelan

Forest fire burning in Slieve Bloom mountains, 4 July 2018 Photo: Ricky Whelan

This would run in contravention of the Government’s requirements to allow for effective public participation in environmental matters under the Aarhus Convention and European Directives.

The Government’s Consultation Principles & Guidance document also indicates that a consultation process should vary between two and 12 weeks, with a longer period appropriate where individuals are being consulted.

“In addition, longer consultation periods may be necessary when the consultation process falls around holiday periods,” the document states.

Pillar spokesperson Charles Stanley Smith said that the original deadline was also not acceptable “from a moral standpoint”, especially on such a contentious issue.

“Under the controversial Heritage Act, the Government now wants to extend the period during which burning is allowed to March every year, a dangerous move in our opinion,” he said.

“Over the past few years, thousands of hectares of mountain, hill, bog and forest habitat have been destroyed partially as a result of out of control burning, incinerating wildlife that cannot escape fast enough, including helpless chicks in their nests.

“The original deadline for this important consultation would have effectively given the public and concerned conservationists a two-week window to get their valid views across.”

Details on the consultation can be found here: https://goo.gl/YcgPcS

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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