Wicklow Uplands Council is disappointed with yesterday’s announcement by the Department of Heritage, Culture and the Gaeltacht, to not extend the controlled burning season beyond February 28th 2019.
Wicklow Uplands Council continue to advocate for the need to permanently extend the permissive burning season to more realistic and workable dates. The Heritage Act 2018 allows for an extension to the burning season but this is subject to ministerial approval. The current permissible dates are from September 1st to the last day in February.
Although the final days of February were unusually warm this year, the window of time was too narrow, resulting in condensed burning activities in the few short days before the deadline. Data supports the conclusion that the month of March offers much more favourable conditions, which is reflected in Northern Ireland’s use of April 15th as the final day to its season.
Wicklow Uplands Council continues to promote the use of controlled burning within a realistic season as an effective land management tool. Farmers are within their rights to carry out burning activities within the permissive season. On this issue, the SUAS Pilot Project, which seeks to address many of the challenges faced by upland farmers, carried out a number of successful well managed controlled burns in the narrow window with the assistance of project manager, Declan Byrne.
There is a lack of awareness of controlled burning practices and the opportunity that it presents to support upland biodiversity and to avoid the devastation of wildfires during the drier summer months.
Members of the farming community have also expressed confusion to the notifications process and we call upon the Department to address this issue in its future publications.
We have long advocated successive governments to amend the dates to a more workable and realistic season . Although the Heritage Act is a step in the right direction, this announcement fails to address the underlying challenges faced by the hill farming community and is a missed opportunity to begin bringing our uplands back to a more managed state.
It must also be recognised that there is a significant difference between the devastation caused by uncontrolled wildfires compared with the use of controlled rotational burning which provides forage and shelter for sheep while creating a mosaic of habitat structures, food for wildlife and a greater biodiversity in the upland region
Undertaken responsibly, controlled burning is an important management tool in the future of upland habitat management and it also greatly reduces the chances of a wildfire taking hold in upland regions. Unmanaged monocultures of bracken, heather or gorse are not good for biodiversity and provide fuel for wildfires that can take hold in the dry summer months.