Wicklow Uplands Council is disappointed that no announcement is forthcoming from the Department of Heritage, Culture and the Gaeltacht, regarding the controlled burning season this year.
The Heritage Act 2018, introduced a two year pilot, which would allow for an extension to the burning season should circumstances such as adverse weather conditions require it, however this is subject to ministerial approval. The current permissible dates are from September 1st to the last day in February and although an announcement has been widely anticipated, the department has stayed silent on this issue.
Recent figures released from Met Eireann confirm that the month of February saw record breaking rainfall across the country, with some of the records broken dating back as far as 1850. The country was battered by three storms, Ciara, Denis and Jorge, contributing to new wind records for February being set at 11 different locations. The farming communities across the country have reported that land and vegetation remain saturated and that the weather conditions required to safely undertake controlled burning, did not materialise.
Wicklow Uplands Council promotes the use of controlled burning within a realistic season as an effective land management tool, with farmers and land managers carrying out burning activities within the permissive season.
Controlled and rotational burning offers the opportunity to create a mosaic of vegetation structure which provides forage and shelter and supports upland biodiversity when carried out correctly. In the debate over controlled burning in the uplands, the fact that these are semi-natural habitats which need to be managed appropriately is often overlooked. Vast areas of mature vegetation which can be subsequently wiped out by summer fires, are devastating to upland habitats. There is a significant difference between the destruction caused by uncontrolled wildfires compared with the use of controlled rotational burning.
A key project being undertaken by Wicklow Uplands Council, is the SUAS Pilot Project, one of the 23 EIP projects currently operating across Ireland. The five year project is seeking to address many of the challenges faced by upland farmers and through innovative practices support healthier habitats across the Wicklow and Dublin Uplands.
As part of the project’s scope, the farmers of each site works closely with an independent ecologist to determine a medium to long-term land management plan that includes vegetation management techniques such as controlled burning if needed. A number of training events took place in February 2019 during a rare period of dry and suitable weather conditions, however despite months of preparation, no events were possible in 2020.
Under the direction of the SUAS Project Manager, Declan Byrne, optimum areas selected for controlled burning activities are specifically chosen as part of an agreed management plan to improve the overall quality and condition of the sites participating in the scheme.
In preparation, fire-breaks were set up and all of the required permits were put in place, however no window of opportunity for controlled burning activities presented itself during the permissive burning dates.
To better illustrate the practice of Controlled Burning, the photos chosen to accompany this post were taken at training events organised by the SUAS Project, which took place on the Granamore Commonage and Ballybeg Commonage in February 2019.
They feature the practice of low intensity burning using firebreaks, appropriate clothing and equipment and a fire management team consisting of local farmers working collectively under an agreed land management plan.