Wildfires ‘destroyed Slieve Gullion eco-system’

02 May 2019

Published by https://www.bbc.com

IRELAND – Wildfires that raged across the Slieve Gullion hillsides have destroyed parts of the area’s eco-system, experts say.

One gorse fire last July tore across an area of approximately 100 acres in South Armagh, encroaching upon an area of special scientific interest.

Scores of hectares of trees were burnt, the land was left charred and many birds and small animals were killed.

Darren Rice of the Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership said the fires had caused lasting damage.

“Plants do regenerate but the previous wide variety of species like the mosses, heathers, hazel and hawthorn have been destroyed in places, he told BBC News NI.

“Instead, the more vigorous gorse and bracken are taking hold and spreading.”

At one point the blaze was so serious, the Irish Air Corps deployed helicopters to douse the flames with lake water.

The cost of replacing destroyed trees runs into many thousands of pounds, and the forest also loses years of growth time.

Wildlife experts say the fires are largely avoidable and the majority are caused by humans, with one of the biggest culprits being the disposable barbecue.

The forestry service hopes that highlighting the deaths of birds and small animals will shock people more than the economic cost.

Donald Whiteside, wildlife officer for the Department of Agriculture’ s Forestry service, said that while the fires endanger humans, they are devastating for wild birds.

“Birds normally lay their eggs in undergrowth like this, if they see a fire coming they might sit tight on those eggs,” he said.

“I have seen pheasants and their eggs just fried on their nests.”

And even after the fires are put out, the loss of ground cover is a threat to wild animals such as hares, mice, lizards and deer.

“They’re left exposed to predators,” said Mr Whiteside. “The undergrowth which is their natural habitat is destroyed.

“Deer, if they survive, may leave the area and they may never come back, or least not for maybe 10 years until the trees and bushes grow again.”

It is vital to eliminate the threat of widfires, said Darren Rice.

“It’s a beautiful area, so we have to manage the interaction between mankind and nature,” he added.

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