Ireland’s landscape is one of our most valuable assets. It’s the basis of our tourism and agriculture industries but more than that it provides us with water, flood control and clean air. It’s home to our wildlife and it’s where we go to restore weary minds. Indeed we use it as an effective tool when trying to attract tourists and businesses into Ireland with slick videos, images of Ireland’s verdant countryside and slogans like ‘origin green’. The word ‘sustainability’ is part of the marketing executive’s lexicon. But sadly there is an abject failure by the State to strategically invest in managing this asset properly and safeguarding it for future generations. This is laid bare in the annual torching of our uplands.
Due to the narrow and unworkable rules in relation to farming subsidies, large tracts of our uplands are burnt to keep land clear of undesirable “scrub” (otherwise known as wildlife habitats). 2015 has seen fires on an unprecedented scale with large tracts of our hills now burnt black and scarred, upland wildlife killed and people’s homes and lives put at risk. Is this what tourists come to Ireland to see? The Irish Wildlife Trust decided to put together a more honest tourism video for our “Wild Fire Atlantic Way” to highlight the lack of joined-up thinking in government policy; one that is happy to parade the “family silver” but refuses to look after it properly.
The IWT is calling for the government to stamp out illegal fires by proper enforcement of the Wildlife Act and suspension of single farm payments to land owners who break the law by burning inside the closed season (1st March-31st August). We need a complete overhaul of agricultural subsidies in our uplands; moving away from a purely food production based output to a more multi-functional system that recognises the value of a healthy environment and the social benefits that our uplands provide through flood protection, water purification, carbon storage and recreation. We need to support our farmers in restoring our upland bogs, heath and native forests.