Following International Day of Forests last Sunday (March 21), the European Commission has published new guidelines to facilitate a better understanding of land-based wildfire prevention and effective responses.
In recent years, the impact of wildfires on people and nature has increased. The new guidance looks at interconnected factors behind this increase, and provides an overview of existing principles and experiences on managing landscapes, forests and woodlands that can save lives.
‘Ireland now facing new and unexpected pressures’
The report that contains the guidelines, ‘Land-based wildfire prevention’, states:
“Wildfires have always been a part of Europe’s history, especially around the Mediterranean.
Today, however, that threat is spreading to Central and Northern Europe, with countries such as Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands now facing these new and unexpected pressures.
“Climate change is aggravating the situation, making countries more prone to wildfires and increasing the intensity of such events. With every passing year, the wildfire season starts earlier and ends later, with these fires becoming more frequent events that can strike in any region.
‘People need to be informed and educated’
“Mitigating wildfire risks requires looking at land and how it is managed, to ensure that the structure, composition and use of forests, woodland and other vegetation landscapes make it more resistant and resilient against wildfires.
People need to be informed and educated about wildfires so that through their actions they do not increase fire risks but, on the contrary, actively support the mitigation of wildfires.
“This requires investments in education, human resources, planning tools and equipment by the competent authorities at all levels.”
The commission says that this “will help to reduce the incidence and extent of wildfires”.
The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 also aims to contribute to the EU and its member states “being adequately equipped to prevent and respond to major wildfires, which seriously damage forest biodiversity”.
- A good governance framework is essential in order to ensure cooperation among all stakeholders, both public and private;
- Wildfire prevention should be a priority in landscape planning;
- New scenarios linked to changing climate conditions and their consequences require anticipation of the risk and drivers of wildfires, in order to build more resistant and resilient landscapes and societies;
- Landscape planning should take into account relevant species selection and management regimes to increase forest resistance and resilience;
- Well-planned and executed in adequate areas, fuel management can contribute to improve or preserve ecosystems;
- It is important to increase European-wide awareness and a common understanding of forest fires that is adapted to the reality of each region;
- Best use should be made of EU funding opportunities;
- When wildfires occur, a coordinated, rapid and effective international response is crucial.
One of the case studies in the report on the management systems currently in place in countries includes that of “promoting locally-led sustainable farming and fire management in upland areas” in Ireland.
“In developing responses to wildfires, Ireland has closely followed the FAO’s [Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN] voluntary guidance for fire management in advance of developing suitable national strategies of its own,” the case study says.
“This has proved important in the early stages of development, in terms of defining priorities for action, and the development of suitable evidence to base actions on.
Early on, it became clear that active and economically viable farming in fire-prone upland areas is one of the most effective ways to prevent and reduce the effects of wildfires.
“While active grazing patterns can reduce fuel loads, other activities by farmers can also benefit biodiversity protection and enhancement, as well as the protection of landscapes and ecosystem services.
“Ireland’s EIP-AGRI Operational Groups encourage cooperation and innovation in specific rural areas by offering new opportunities to bring a broad range of people together to overcome common challenges.”
Results-based payments to farmers
To date, there are 23 EIP-AGRI projects in operation, with six of these projects related to upland areas where fire has been identified as a significant problem.
“These six projects all contain fire management modules, integrated with other habitat management and farming measures,” the case study continues.
These modules are intended to improve the understanding of upland vegetation management and its role in relation to fire, and address these issues through improved farming practices.
“In practice, this has involved results-based payments to farmers, based on the outcomes of work they have completed, under the supervision of the projects.”
130ha of burnt lands now ineligible for BPS payments
Fires on rural lands – particularly in counties Kerry, Laois and Wicklow – have been noted since the closing date of March 1, by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which has warned that such lands are now no longer eligible for Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments.
Where land has been burned between these dates, it is not in a state suitable for grazing or cultivation and therefore, is not eligible for the remainder of the year.
This follows Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien and Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcom Noonan condemning recent “illegal wildfires” that took place in Wicklow Mountains National Park and the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Co. Laois.
“Wildfires do not occur naturally in Ireland,” Minister O’Brien said.
The main cause of such conflagrations is thought to be the deliberate starting of fires without concern for the emergency services, the local wildlife, habitat, communities or even private property close by.
Last Saturday night, several fire crew units also attended “major bog fires” which occurred between Strokestown and Tarmonbarry in Co. Roscommon.