News 2020

 

Title:  Thanks to the Firefighters
Date:  21/04/2020

Thanks to the Firefighters

Mountaineering Ireland extends its thanks to the Fire Service, Coillte and the National Parks & Wildlife Service personnel who, with air support, last week battled extensive fires on the Wicklow Mountains and in the Blackstairs, trying to limit the destruction of the mountain landscapes we get so much enjoyment from. Sadly, despite these efforts a total of over 500 hectares (5km2) of mountain habitat in Wicklow, designated as a Special Area of Conservation, has been wiped out in six fires since 26th March. The habitats destroyed include areas of blanket bog, one of the most ecologically significant habitats we have in Ireland. These fires also destroyed much of the attraction for hillwalkers and climbers – the beauty of the landscape and the sights and sounds of nature.

It is not only the quality of people’s recreational experiences that are affected. Ireland’s mountains are significant natural assets; in good environmental condition they provide a range of ecosystem services that underpin our economy, health and wellbeing. Last week’s fires undermined the provision of those services, causing air pollution and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Wildlife was killed or displaced and will be unable to return to the affected areas for years.  The Wicklow fires were on the hills above the Poulaphuca Reservoir and will have a direct impact on this, the main source of drinking water for the greater Dublin area.

Given the current Covid-19 restrictions on travel it is clear these fires were not associated with walkers or other visitors to the uplands. Fire Service investigations have concluded that the Wicklow fires were deliberately lit and that they were agricultural fires; the National Parks & Wildlife Service has concurred with that assessment. The cutting or burning of growing vegetation is not allowed between 1st March and 31st August, so any fires on the hills at this time are illegal. This could well have consequences for the recipients of farm payments, which are contingent on these lands being in good environmental condition. It has been confirmed to Mountaineering Ireland that the National Parks & Wildlife Service will be following up with the Department of Agriculture on these and all other fires that occur at this time.

Mountaineering Ireland reminds members that even during this period when we cannot travel to the mountains, we can still act as stewards by watching out for any smoke rising from the hills and reporting it; don’t assume that someone else has done so.

We can help too by speaking with others about the impact fires have on the integrity of Ireland’s uplands. As the chorus of those who appreciate the value of these special and fragile environments grows louder perhaps those who light the fires may think twice.

Your actions can help protect the mountain landscapes that we cherish and their ability to continue to provide high quality recreation experiences for ourselves, and for the visitors to our country, who together make a vital contribution to the rural economy.  It will also help to protect those critical public goods associated with well-functioning and intact upland environments, not least locking up carbon, storing and filtering our water, clean air and an abundance of wildlife.

The video which accompanies this Irish Times article shows the damage and explains the ecological impact of the burning.

Mountaineering Ireland also welcomes the comments of Wicklow TD Steven Matthews in response to the fires, as reported in the Wicklow News

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