The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) has received information from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage from Freedom of Information that throughout 2020 only two permits were issued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service for so-called ‘prescribed’ or ‘controlled’ burning in Ireland.
Both of these consents were in the Western Division with no permits issued in the Eastern, Southern or Northern divisions. Permits from the NPWS are required where burning is planned within one of Ireland’s 400+ Natura 2000 sites which cover approximately 13% of the country including large uplands areas.
While not all burning takes place in Natura 2000 sites, we know that in 2020 there were dozens out-of-control fires in protected areas across the country, including Wicklow, Carlow and Kerry. While all burning is prohibited during the nesting season (March to August) under the Wildlife Act, we also had out-of-control fires in January and February of this year, however our data shows that there is unlikely to be any controlled burning taking place in Ireland at any time of the year.
IWT Campaign Officer, Pádraic Fogarty says “There seems to be an assumption that setting fires to the hills in January or February is ok, but what we’re seeing is illegal and out-of-control fires even at these times of year. The truth is that there is likely to be near zero controlled burning anywhere”.
Controlled burning of vegetation on the hills is an enormously polluting and harmful activity and is not a practical land management option in Ireland. Restoring native woodlands and wetlands, which naturally store water and so are wetter, gives us the best hope to minimise fire risks while also avoiding the pollution and habitat destruction that occurs from burning of any kind. Land use policies, particularly forestry and farming, should promote rewilding and ecosystem restoration rather than penalising farming for having natural vegetation on their land.