Environmental Mangement - Upland Burning in Ireland and the Effects of the Heritage Bill 2016.

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Wildlife Biology                                                    2017


Wildfire management programs are responsible for analyzing and providing information on wildfires and implementing measures to prevent their occurrence and spread. Information regarding weather, fuel and fire behavior can help monitors predict future wild fires and their associated risk (Wade & Lundsford, 1989). Evaluating wildfire behavior and its effects are essential for protecting wildlife and implementing management plans. Understanding the effects of fire on the soil, vegetation and wildlife are essential in developing best practice management plans (Ryan & Noste, 1985).

Environmentalists however, generally dislike the trend of prescribed fires as a management tool. This is because prescribed fires are not always beneficial to the landscape and the regional wildlife. Under unfavourable conditions, prescribed fires can severely damage the very resource it was intended to benefit. There are also concerns over the level to which these fires contribute to air pollution.

Not all Environmentalists oppose to prescribed burns, but believe that there is too much reliance on them and very little research conducted on the benefits and impacts it has on the landscape over the long-term. Residents and landowners in forested upland areas on the other hand become concerned about the amounts of potential fuel present in the uplands. With proper management and data collection, a well-planned burn can reduce these potential fire hazards and even improve habitats from a wildlife point of few (C. Nugent, Personal Communication, 2017).

The Heritage Bill 2016

Introduced by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys, the primary purpose of the Heritage Bill 2016 is to amend the Heritage Act 1995 and make provisions for the regulation for the burning and cutting of vegetation. The Heritage Bill 2016 will also Acts amend and extend the Wildlife Act 1976 and outline the powers issued to the authorized bodies under the Act. Provisions will also be made in the Bill to amend the Canals Act 1986 (Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 2016). The Bill comes as a manifestation of the Irish Government’s poor record in listening to the cohorts of people who value our natural heritage. This is evident in the lack of scientific rationale to support these changes (birdwatchireland, 2017).

The Bill introduces many poor aspects that have caused debates and outrage in within the Irish community, including environmental activists, wildlife groups, farmers and the general public. The Bill overturns the protection of roadside hedgerows, threatening these unique habitats and wildlife corridors.  Another major concern regarding wildlife is the proposed extensions to the dates for burning in the uplands and hedge cutting. The proposed changes will have a significantly negative impact on wildlife, in particular breeding birds (See Fig 1) (birdwatchireland, 2017).

The current Wildlife Amendment Act, protected against the destructive and intrusive nature of burning and hedge cutting (See Fig 7 and App. Fig 12). Although often under-enforced, the Act created a framework for the protection of breeding birds. The new legislation will weaken the current laws set in place to protect breeding birds and other biodiversity. At present, the burning of vegetation or cut hedges between September 1st to February 28th/29th each year. The new bill proposes to change these dates to allow burning and hedge cutting to run from August through to March. This will extend and cutting season by one month into August and extend the burning season by one month into March. The extensions as a result will directly correlate with the nesting periods of birds. Wildlife experts have outlined the potential negative affects these changes will have on the breeding bird populations (House of the Oireachtas, 2017).

Hedgerows provide both a source of food and habitat for a number of common bird species for roosting and nesting 55 bird species of the 110 species recorded regularly in Birdwatch Ireland's Countryside Bird Survey use them during the breeding season (Coombes, et al., 2006). This includes Emberiza citrinella (yellowhammer) (See Fig 2) and Linaria cannabina (linnet), two species that have significantly declined in population across Ireland.

Fires in the uplands can have a significant influence on the rates of erosion and distribution of biodiversity determining the overall habitat characteristics (Davies, et al., 2008). Wildfires destroy the food stores and nesting sites of birds and other wildlife. Large-scale wild fires can also lead to the destruction of millions of euro worth of forestry and family homes. For many bird species, including the endangered and iconic Numenius arquata (Curlew) (See Fig 3) whose populations are in serious decline (125 remaining pairs in Ireland), Numenius arquata nest in Mooreland’s during the month of March and prepare to lay their eggs (Working Notes, 2013). Upland fires during this period could potentially eradicate future breeding sites and wipe out there populations entirely.

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Wild Fires Vs Prescribed Fires

Wildfire refers to any uncontrolled or unplanned wildland fire that, regardless of its ignition source, requires a response (e.g. suppression) (Davies, et al., 2008). The occurrence intensity and size of a wildfire depend greatly on several variables including the present vegetation species, their moisture content and the biomass of consumable fuel available. Under certain environmental (Dry and Windy) and fuel conditions, wildfires can spread quickly resulting in large-scale damages.

A Prescribed fire is a managed wildland fire or a wildfire that burns within an outlined prescription area. Prescribed fires are confined to a predetermined target ...

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