Galway bog fire a threat to endangered birds, Birdwatch Ireland warns

Calls for cause of blaze near Lough Corrib to be investigated by gardaí

Birdwatch Ireland has called on gardaí and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to investigate the cause of a bog fire at Curragh Line near Lough Corrib in Co Galway. It is in an area where endangered bird species nest.

The fire began on Wednesday evening and continued through the night into Thursday. Such was its extent by lunchtime Thursday that the Headford Road, which goes through the area, was closed to traffic for a time in the afternoon as fire fighters attempted to bring the blaze under control.

Oonagh Duggan, head of advocacy at Birdwatch Ireland, said that, as of Thursday evening, " the fire is ongoing, sending plumes of smoke all over the area and with several fire units from Galway County Council attending."

The area was “really important for wildlife,” she said. “At least three pairs of the critically endangered curlew are attempting to breed on and close to the bog but other species that are severely threatened are also breeding in the area. These include lapwing, snipe, redshank and other ground nesting birds like skylark and meadow pipit.”


She called on Malcolm Noonan, Minister of State for Heritage, "to ensure that his department investigates this fire which has the potential to seriously impact Birdwatch Ireland and local farmers' efforts to save breeding curlew on this part of the Corrib."

“A speedy response is needed to determine if this fire was set deliberately. The Minister set up the wildlife crime unit in 2021 and we would hope that it would be involved,” she said. “Our staff will visit the area as soon as it’s safe to do so, to determine the scale of the damage to the habitats for these birds,” she said.

It was “highly likely that breeding birds have been impacted by this fire and the smoke, but it has also resulted in carbon release from the burning peat,” she said.

Peatlands were “so important as ecosystems supporting unique plants, birds and animals as well as thousands of tonnes of captured carbon. Fires like these are extremely destructive. We need to understand what happened here and to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” she said.


Responding to calls by Birdwatch Ireland to investigate the cause of the fire as a possible wildlife crime, Mr Noonan said that he had immediately tasked NPWS staff to work with the Garda in its investigation of the cause of the fire. He added that these fires don’t start by themselves.

He said NPWS takes these matters very seriously and in recent weeks announced increased surveillance using drones and helicopters on key natural heritage sites and our national parks.

“This Galway fire is devastating news for all involved in conservation efforts to save the Curlew, particularly those invested in the Curlew EIP project at Curragh Line,” said Mr Noonan.

He said that a thorough investigation would need to be carried out and he thanked fire and emergency services of Galway County Council and NPWS staff who attended the scene to bring the fire under control.

“This is a particularly dangerous time of year for fires in our natural heritage areas and we urge the public to report suspicious activity and to be vigilant themselves while using our National Parks and nature reserves. We are in the depths of a biodiversity emergency and cannot afford to lose any more habitats to fire.”

Mr Noonan added that there will be increased aerial and ground surveillance in the coming days as a preventative measure.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times