Controlled burning is an essential part of upland management, according to the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).

The INHFA is calling on both the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, to finally take action to change legal burning dates within the Heritage Bill.

Minister Creed has failed to play his part by ignoring the fact that controlled burning is an agricultural activity in upland areas, which can be compared to re-seeding or topping in lowland areas, the INHFA’s CAP Spokesperson, Colm O’Donnell, said.

Together with grazing, controlled burning is both a necessary and essential way of maintaining upland areas in a suitable condition for grazing or cultivation, he added.

Traditionally, hill farmers have burned off the mature vegetation in the month of March, the INHFA said.

This generally took place when conditions were favourable; dry enough to carry out a controlled burn safely, without affecting ground nesting birds, it added.

“No level of expertise could carry out this activity when the ground is too wet or indeed too dry, as is currently the case,” O’Donnell said.

The INHFA has called on Minister Creed to support Minister Humphreys’ proposal to extend the burning dates to include the month of March.

Currently, gorse burning is prohibited between March 1 and August 31. Individuals who are found to burn vegetation within the prohibited period are liable to prosecution by An Garda Siochana or by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Earlier this week, Minister Humphreys said that deliberate or uncontrolled fires can destroy habitats, wildlife, farm land and structures. These fires can also threaten homes and lives, she added.

The minister was speaking in relation to the recent glut of illegal gorse fires that have swept across the countryside.

The most prominent fire took place in the Cloosh Valley in Co. Galway. The fire was finally brought under control yesterday, having burned for a number of days.

Coillte staff and army personnel remained on-site yesterday to monitor hot spots, as there was still some risk that fires could re-ignite.

With stable weather conditions and a forecast of rain on Saturday evening, it is hoped that there will be no further resurgence of the fire.