The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) has made a submission to the proposed guidelines on the implementation of Section 7(1) of the Heritage Act 2018 which will allow controlled burning of vegetation during an extended season, including March.
The IWT was against any changes to the burning periods and campaigned with other interest groups against the passing of the Heritage Act – which in our view is a very regressive step at a time when we should be strengthening, not weakening, protections for nature.
The proposed guidelines have left us with no confidence that burning can be carried out in manner which protects habitats or which is compliant with conservation law. For example, the guidelines say that blanket bog should not be burned while wet heath should only be burned where the will be ‘no damage to the moss layer’. The guidelines do not say how these habitats are to be distinguished. Furthermore, identification of habitats even by trained ecologists is fraught with subjectivity and uncertainty given that historic damage has changed the vegetation while the habitats can occur in subtle patchworks or mosaics across any given landscape. How fire is to stay out of one habitat and be confined to another is anyone’s guess. How gets to decide whether the ground is suitable for burning or not? The guidelines for burning itself are complex and will require a lot of training and expertise by practitioners. It is unclear as to who is going to pay for the training, the habitat identification or the environmental assessments (where burning is to be done in protected areas). Nor does there seem to be any system of oversight or transparency to ensure compliance with various legal constraints. In short, we believe that the guidelines will not be possible to implement.
IWT campaign officer Pádraic Fogarty says: “these guidelines will do nothing for upland farmers in Ireland or the protection of the environment upon which they depend. Instead of wasting our time with regulations which are for appearances only, the government agencies should be working towards an upland management plan which would provide options for farmers which help to restore livelihoods and nature. Native woodland, hardy breeds of cattle and apiculture have all been suggested as ways in which farm incomes can diversify in a nature-friendly manner.”