Isle of Man–– In a meeting recently organised between the Forestry, Amenity and Lands Directorate of DEFA, and the Fire and Rescue Service, also involving the Isle of Man branch of Friends of the Earth, a number of joint initiatives were agreed which will offer further protection to the Manx uplands.
The flora and fauna of our uplands is in a generally very good condition and it contains habitat that is becoming increasingly rare internationally. As just one example, areas of blanket bog are now more scarce that tropical rainforest.
The uplands are not only important from a wildlife habitat perspective; they provide the Isle of Man with its main source of clean drinking water. Careful management of upland water collection areas helps keep the cost of water treatment down. The uplands also filter out air-borne pollutants, they provide grazing for home-produced sheep and cattle and, critically, store huge amounts of carbon in the form of peat.
Peatland on the uplands must be effectively managed to prevent the loss of carbon. It has huge potential to offset carbon emissions. This resource is therefore highly important and has a significant potential financial value.
Whilst most fires which people will see on the hills are undertaken in a controlled and beneficial manner by DEFAs tenants and staff under licence over the winter period, the uplands can easily be damaged by wild or un-managed fires. Fire-damaged uplands can change from being highly valuable resources to potentially damaging liabilities.
Wildlife habitat is lost and through the peat itself burning, or through subsequent erosion, carbon can be lost into the atmosphere or pollute watercourses.
To help to safeguard against the damaging effects of wildfires, DEFA and the Fire and Rescue Service have taken some major steps to deliver improved fire management of the uplands.
The two Departments now work together to train staff from both sides on the risks, methods and practicalities of tackling upland fires and accessing remote sites. The Fire and Rescue Service has loaned DEFA a Pinzgauer six wheel drive fire appliance. This allows more remote areas of the uplands to be brought into management where this was previously very difficult due to difficulties of access with more traditional vehicles. This is beneficial to both parties as DEFA staff have been able to assess where fire appliance access on the hills is possible, which will be invaluable in an emergency situation. DEFA employees also now tend to be one of the first ports of call in any upland or remote incident due to their specialist knowledge of the areas involved.
Independently, both organisations are also striving to further enhance their ability to react and tackle issues with the Fire and Rescue Service developing training and IT capabilities to reflect remote and difficult locations with limited radio communications.
DEFA and its tenants will also continue with upland management work which includes heather cutting by tractor and controlled burning to reduce the amount of combustible material available and create natural firebreaks as well as enhancing habitat. Forest fringe maintenance and internal plantation firebreak clearance is also vitally important. In addition, valuable areas of peat-producing sphagnum bog and wetland habitat are being re-created by blocking drains. Key to all of this is general education on the uplands and their importance, so that people can confidently use and enjoy the uplands and forests without putting themselves or their environment at risk.
Both Departments also greatly appreciate the work carried out by tenants of the DEFA estate and by private landowners in terms of managing the upland vegetation to reduce fire risks.
Minister for Environment, Food and Agriculture, Phil Gawne MHK said It is always a careful balancing act in encouraging access to areas of natural beauty and value when there are associated risks. It is excellent that two Departments can work so closely together on the initiative of their officers to find ways of reducing the risk to the environment whilst improving access. It is wonderful to see officers sharing their respective areas of expertise. This really is what a joined-up Government should look like.
Member for Home Affairs, Alan Crowe MLC said The Isle of Man Fire and Rescue Service is delighted to be involved in this tripartite approach to the ongoing protection of our uplands. The Service is continuing to develop its response capability by investing in specific areas such as operational equipment, personal protective equipment and IT. Additionally, the preventative and protection work with key stakeholders and the review of operating procedures continue to progress the role of the Service when dealing with a fire event of this nature