26 illegal fires recorded during the closed season in 2016

A total of 27 wild fires were recorded by the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) during the bird nesting season in 2016.

Information received from the National Parks and Wildlife Service show that only one of these fires received the required permission, the IWT said.

The IWT is reminding landowners that it is prohibited under the Wildlife Act to burn vegetation from today, March 1, until the bird nesting season ends on August 31.

A ban on hedgecutting is also in place during this time frame.

Out of the 27 wild fires recorded, 15 occurred in areas designated for wildlife conservation, according to the IWT.

It added that burning vegetation on hills results in destruction of wildlife habitats and is a key factor in the decline of many of Ireland’s upland birds.

Proposed changes to the Heritage Bill, which allow for managed hedgecutting and burning at certain times within the existing closed period on a pilot two-year basis, will be discussed in the Seanad this week.

Proposals to extend the permitted burning dates is a step in the wrong direction and will do nothing to help farmers in upland areas, IWT Campaign Officer Padraic Fogarty said.

We need policies that can promote environmental protection in hand with upland farming and which bring an end to the annual bonfire of our hills.

Over 26,000 people have signed a petition urging politicians to scrap the proposed changes to burning and hedge-cutting dates in the Heritage Bill, according to the IWT.

Current Law

Under the current law, Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts 1976, as amended, prohibits the cutting, grubbing, burning or destruction of vegetation, with certain strict exemptions, from March 1 to August 31.

Speaking in the Seanad on the issue earlier this year, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys, said that through this proposed legislation she is trying to allow managed hedgecutting within the closed period on a pilot basis for two years.

“There have been repeated calls for this closed period to be amended and, under the proposal, managed hedgecutting would be allowed in August and controlled burning in March, under strict criteria.

I’m trying to strike a balance here. Hedgerows and scrubs are important for wildlife and I also want to collect more information on this during the pilot period.

“I don’t believe the current system is effective enough and these changes could help,” she said.