Farmers say decision not to extend burning season could increase wild fire risk

04 March 2019

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IRELAND – Disappointment has been expressed with last week’s announcement by the Department of Heritage, Culture and the Gaeltacht, not to extend the controlled burning season beyond February.

Ms Josepha Madigan TD, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, said that following extensive consideration in her Department of Met Éireann data, it was clear that rainfall in Ireland during the 6 months when it was permissible to burn under the law (i.e. from September 2018 to February 2019) was significantly below average.  Overall, nationally rainfall for the 6 month period was some 10.49pc below the 30 year mean.

This was particularly the case in the first two months of the year which have been exceptionally dry compared to average rainfall.  Overall in these 2 months, rainfall across the country has been some 29.57pc below the 30 year average. Temperatures during January and February this year have also been above average.

The Minister said that “weather conditions would not have precluded landowners from burning vegetation during the 6 month period when this could have been done under the law and accordingly there is no basis for me to extend the legal period for burning into March”.

However,  Brian Dunne, Coordinator of Wicklow Uplands Council said although the final days of February were unusually warm this year, the window of time was too narrow, resulting in condensed burning activities in the few short days before the deadline.

He says data supports the conclusion that the month of March offers much more favourable conditions, which is reflected in Northern Ireland’s use of April 15 as the final day to its season.

“We have long advocated successive governments to amend the dates to a more workable and realistic season . Although the Heritage Act is a step in the right direction, this announcement fails to address the underlying challenges faced by the hill farming community and is a missed opportunity to begin bringing our uplands back to a more managed state.

Speaking about the promotion of Controlled Burning Practices, Mr. Dunne continued it must be recognised that there is a significant difference between the devastation caused by uncontrolled wildfires compared with the use of controlled rotational burning which provides forage and shelter for sheep while creating a mosaic of habitat structures, food for wildlife and a greater biodiversity in the upland region.

“Undertaken responsibly, controlled burning is an important management tool in the future of upland habitat management and it also greatly reduces the chances of a wildfire taking hold in upland regions.

“Unmanaged monocultures of bracken, heather or gorse are not good for biodiversity and provide fuel for wildfires that can take hold in the dry summer months,” he said.

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