Donegal ecologist says firebreak plan must be adopted

An environmental scientist living in Glenties contacted the ‘Democrat’ at the height of the fires, to say that plans need to be adopted to deal with fires in the future.

An environmental scientist living in Glenties contacted the ‘Democrat’ at the height of the fires, to say that plans need to be adopted to deal with fires in the future.

Catherine Storey, is originally from Doochary, where the first of the fires broke out on Saturday, and saw firsthand the devastation that was taking place.

“The upland hill fires and gorse fires in Donegal are the worst I have ever seen.

“The hill fires that are occurring in Doochary/Lettermacaward, Glenties, Ardara, Dungloe, Gweedore and Inishowen areas are mostly located within the EU Natura 2000 designated SAC and SPA areas. The local farmers are losing their sheep, and every one is under the threat of losing their homes. The social economic and the wildlife loss is huge. It cannot be replaced, or be measured in financial terms.

“At this time of year, the sheep are on the hills with their lambs, deer with their young, and upland birds are on ground nesting. All these are being wiped out by the simple careless, action of lighting fires to gorse and decayed Molina (Fhathain bhan) grass. People in the Dungloe area have been evacuated, there are stories of oil tanks igniting. This is as bad as living in a war zone.

“I feel it is time for a well-known ‘preventive hill fire land management plan” to be introduced into Donegal - the use of fire breaks. Fire breaks are used around forestry plantations in the south of the country to protect the commercial forestry plantations from hill fires. In upland areas of UK, fire breaks are randomly placed to protect vulnerable areas from the spread of hill fires. Fire break management requires large continuous linear tracts of land to be cleared of all vegetation i.e grass, shrub, trees and to be managed in this way constantly.

“The width of the firebreak is approximately 6-8m wide, sometimes greater. It aims to halt the wind-fanned flames of a fire from crossing the firebreak, and encroaching further into vulnerable land. Yes, firebreaks can be seen from a distance and do not enhance the landscape, but they do provide a protection barrier for the indigenous wildlife and flora as well as the local human population.

“As a local land owner, I feel strongly that a ‘hill fire management plan’ must be introduced for our community, in order to protect our precious landscape, wildlife, flora, our local farming community and the residents of rural Donegal.

“This issue requires immediate action, with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Donegal County Council and local communities, REPs Planners, and wildlife organisations meeting and agreeing the necessary actions to be taken within their local communities, to prevent the scourge of hill and gorse fires again destroying our beautiful landscape.”