The DAB Farmers Group in conjunction with the Ulster Farmers Union recently held a ‘Controlled Heather Burning and Bracken Control’ information evening at the Benedy Community Centre.
A healthy audience of 70 farmers were provided with presentations from the NI Environment Agency, the NI Fire Service and CAFRE.
The NI Environment Agency began the meeting by explaining the difficulties experienced with ‘wildfires’ over the last number of years, particularly the impact these can have on the local economy and the natural environment. This was followed with an overview of the ‘Controlled Burning Awareness’ programme which the Fire Service is currently promoting. Following a difficult year in 2011 where there was a high incidence of wildfires in rural areas, the Fire Service explained that they are keen to help farmers and landowners focus on three key principles; managing flame length, flame speed and ensuring that an effective boundary plan is in place in instances where controlled burning is required.
Both the NI Environment Agency and Fire Service outlined their willingness to develop stronger links with the farming community and that advice on controlled burning is readily available at district fire stations.
To conclude the meeting CAFRE provided a roundup of the trials they are currently conducting with local farmers to evaluate and demonstrate effective bracken control measures best suited to Northern Ireland.
Cutting, rolling and spraying methods are being trialled on six bracken sites across the country and it is expected that over the next number of years a bank of evidence will be developed which will help farmers to identify the best method of control for their land.
UFU Hill farming chairman Ian Buchanan said: “This was an informative meeting on topics which are important to many hill farmers. The control of bracken has become a costly exercise for many farmers as well as restricting availability of productive land for grazing.
“Similarly, overgrown heather can also reduce grazing areas and it is important that controlled burning is used as a management tool in a safe and effective manner in order to provide a fresh source of forage for livestock and a safe habitat for wildlife in upland areas. It was pleasing to see such a strong turnout for the meeting and we hope that this type of meeting will now be replicated in other areas of Northern Ireland.”