Throughout Ireland as in Wicklow, traditional hill sheep farming is in decline. Coupled with this has been the rise in the extent and frequency of unregulated burning
Throughout Ireland as in Wicklow, traditional hill sheep farming is in decline. Coupled with this has been the rise in the extent and frequency of unregulated burning; resulting in part from restrictive permissible burning dates which has had a detrimental effect on the biodiversity and agricultural values of these uplands. Uncontrolled wildfires threaten the conservation status of the Natura 2000 sites including designated SACs and SPAs and pose a serious threat to forestry and private upland properties and public safety.
In response to the challenges facing the uplands, cross community discussions have been taking place in Wicklow over the last four years to develop a new consensus based approach to upland management which seeks both to restore biodiversity and support a recovery in upland farming. A series of well attended public meetings facilitated by Wicklow Uplands Council and the Irish Uplands Forum in 2011 led to the establishment of a Working Group with representation from local and national stakeholders including NPWS, Teagasc, the Irish Uplands Forum and local farmers.
This has culminated in the production of a LEADER funded Study to Identify Best Management of Upland Habitats in County Wicklow prepared by Mary Tubridy and Associates on behalf of Wicklow Uplands Council. The report outlines key recommendations which are critically poised in light of the current review of the Common Agricultural Policy.
- A Sustainable Uplands Agri-environment Scheme (SUAS)
- A change in the permitted dates for controlled burning of vegetation and the establishment of controlled burning groups.
- Parallel Study Areas – to identify novel and cost effective practical management techniques to maximise the benefits to biodiversity and upland farming.
- Research Needs and Policy Changes
Sustainable Uplands Agri-environment Scheme (SUAS)
The report clearly identifys the need for a targetted Upland Agri-Environmental Scheme for the Uplands of Ireland. A detailed specification for the proposed scheme is outlined including payments linked to the quality of biodiversity and the achievement of specific management tasks. This work was informed by discussions with the Working Group, experts in hill sheep farming and upland ecology in addition to reviewing good practice from the UK, Northern Ireland and the Burren example. What is put forward is an improved integrated vegetation management system including controlled burning, swiping, grazing and other practical vegetation management methods to ensure a productive and sustainable upland pastoral economy while improving the biodiversity of upland habitats.
Uncontrolled Burning in the Wicklow Uplands
The report also recognises that the current permissible vegetation burning dates are unsustainable and that legislative and procedural changes need to be implemented. It clearly outlines how the Irish dates are out of line with Northern Ireland and the UK and with the support of other upland areas the Council has and will continue to lobby for these changes. Using the case built in the 2013 study , Wicklow Uplands Council made a submission to then Minister Jimmy Deenihan to urgently request a change to the Wildlife Act 2000 to review the current burning dates and return to the controls which operated prior to 2000. A shorter report and recommendations was submitted to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in April 2007 by the Council without success. In May 2015 a Wicklow Uplands Council’s delegation met with the Minister Humphreys TD as part of the review process on the Wildlife Act 2000 legislation. Given the increase in uncontrolled wildfires across the country and the momentum that has gathered to address this issue in Wicklow, we are hopeful that this matter will be considered as soon as possible and that best practice will be re-introduced to the uplands.
Controlled Burning Groups
The establishment of local fire management groups is also recommended to support good practice in controlled burning with the objective of improving productivity of the hills while preventing damage to biodiversity, forestry, private property and public safety. Groups would comprise farmers and representatives of regulatory authorities to implement fire management plans for their local area supported by training for those involved.
Parallel Study Areas
Other recommendations include practical manamgent trials to identify novel and cost effective techniques to maximise the benefits to biodiverstiy and upland farming with a focus on control of vegetation and identification of optimal stocking on the different upland habitat types.
An Inventory of Biodiversity in the Wicklow/Dublin Uplands
In 2015 Wicklow Uplands Council sought to establish a baseline for biovdersity for the Wicklow/Dublin uplands. This was carried out with the expected call for applications for a locally led scheme agri-environment scheme (LLAES) for upland areas in mind.
The objectives of the study are:
- To produce an indicative habitat map of the study area using existing data sources
- To compile a desk based inventory of records of threatened and protected species in the Wicklow/Dublin uplands using existing data sources
- To identify where there are gaps in available data which may require future survey
- To provide a summary analysis of the species and habitat data results
The report which was prepared by Dr. Claire Lauder, CL Spatial, was comissioned by Wicklow Uplands Council with support from the Local Agenda 21 Environmental Partnership Fund 2015. The LA21 fund is administered by the Environmental Awareness Office of Wicklow County Council.