A radical transformation in how upland landscapes are managed is needed given the latest wild fires that devastated habitats across Ireland, according to the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT).
IWT campaign officer Pádraic Fogarty said “years of neglect and poor management have left our hills largely barren and part of the problem in the fight against climate change and species extinction. They should be part of the solution, but only a radical change of vision can turn things around.”
In a welcome move last year, the Department of Agriculture confirmed farmers with burned land would not be eligible for the single farm payment, he said. “While we have had reports that this has led to a reduction in fires in certain areas, clearly the message is not getting through to all, or other factors are at play.”
Whether the latest spate of fires – in Donegal, Clare and Down – was caused by farmers clearing land, acts of carelessness or wanton vandalism, it was now apparent that only a transformation of how mountain and peatland areas were managed would get on top of the problem, he said.
“Habitats and wildlife populations in these areas have already been devastated through years of annual wildfires, along with inappropriate plantation forestry and land drainage. This means the vegetation that does exist dries out quickly, leaving it especially vulnerable to out of control fires,” Mr Fogarty said.
These landscapes should be wildlife rich, carbon sinks, naturally holding water and places of high scenic and amenity value. “Instead they are carbon sources, lead to flooding and pollution and have few resources for wildlife.”
IWT called for farmers and landowners in such areas to be given greater options for their land. These should include being allowed re-establish permanent, native woodlands; payments for not farming, incentives to move away from sheep and towards cattle-rearing and large-scale restoration of peatland habitats through drain-blocking and rewetting.
He added: “We also need to see greater public awareness of the threat fire poses to public and environmental health as well as the penalties to be incurred from breaking the law.”
He cited research published last week, which provides the science behind growing calls for a “global deal for nature” as a companion agreement to the Paris climate accord.
“This calls for increasing protected areas to 30 per cent of the land (in Ireland the figure currently stands at around 12 per cent) and an additional 20 per cent as ‘climate stabilisation areas’, particularly through peatland and forest restoration.”
The UN has announced 2020 will see the start of a decade of ecosystem restoration as an “unparalleled opportunity for job creation, food security and addressing climate change”.