Wildfire discussions continue with UFU/NIFRS meeting

Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) representatives met last week with Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) senior commanders and wildfire lead specialists, on the Glenshane Pass.

UFU hill farming chair Nigel McLaughlin said: “The meeting with NIFRS was requested of the back of the wildfires that took place several weeks ago on the Mourne Mountains, the result of which caused devastating damage to the local environment and habitats, and also impacted our members who farm and live in the area.

“We had a constructive discussion with NIFRS, and it was very encouraging to learn that they are aware of the issues associated with the wildfires, particularly the massive increase in fire load. Farmers have been managing hills and uplands for generations and these very large-scale wildfires have unfortunately become more common in the past few decades.

“We believe that many of these wildfires have come about due to the designations that were impounded on farms from the mid 1990’s. The two largest factors are the number of sheep that can graze the land and when this is permitted during the year, followed by the large reduction in the amount of land that can be controlled burned which helps to prevent the fire load from getting out of control.

“Since these restrictions came into effect, we have witnessed an increasing fire load across much of the upland and hill areas in Northern Ireland. Bracken and dead grass are a major fire hazard and during our recent visit to the Mournes, the growth and thickness of the fern was very concerning. It burns so easily creating the perfect setting for a wildfire and reinforces the importance of managing hills with grazing livestock and having appropriate fire breaks.

“If a fire is started deliberately, the restrictions in place will do more harm than good. The vast amounts of land, habitats, homes, businesses, and the public will be put at serious risk due to the destruction wildfires cause and with the possibility of it becoming a life-threatening situation.

“To move forward, we want to see all stakeholders coming together to find a way to tackle the factors that contribute to wildfires while allowing farmers to farm more freely and enabling the environment to benefit from this. We would welcome the establishment of the proposed NI Stakeholder Wildfire Forum being set up as soon as possible.”