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Sinn Féin call for controlled burning of gorse

17 June, 2008

South Down Sinn Féin Assembly Member Willie Clarke has said that he believes the Department of the Environment should allocate additional resources to the controlled burning of gorse in sensitive natural habitats across the North.

Cllr Clarke said:

"Fires started deliberately in areas of outstanding natural beauty such as the Mournes are becoming more and more common. The environmental impact of uncontrolled fires is causing serious long-term damage to the landscape and to fragile eco-systems.

"It is important therefore, that habitats are managed in a controlled and sustainable manner and this means the clearance of gorse through regulated burning needs to take place at an appropriate time of year. This would help minimise the negative impact on both the environment and landscape and mean that farmers engaging in scrub clearance would not unwittingly jeopardise their Single Farm Payment.

"The regulations about when hedgerows in Mourne can be cut are well known and in the main respected but what is less obvious are the cross compliance regulations about the burning of gorse. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) standards dictate that 'Heather Gorse, Whin and Fern must not be burnt between 15th April and 31st August. Yet it is during this period that the number of malicious gorse fires increase significantly. These rules and regulations are in place for a reason and are designed to protect nesting birds that are often badly affected when gorse fires run out of control.

"As the Mourne Heritage Trust rightly points out, the Mournes support one of the most extensive tracts of Upland Heathland remaining in the north and are of European importance. Apart from the impact on wildlife, when fire takes hold it can damage not only the heather and other vegetation cover, but also in some cases the underlying peat. Where this happens the affected area can struggle to regain its former character, even after several years. It also causes simplification of the vegetation structure leading to loss of plants, such as rare and local mosses and liverworts, and further erosion of peat.

"The irony is that fires used for the clearance of gorse or Whin scrub actually leads to more vigorous growth back as Whin seeds are stimulated to germinate by fire. And whilst this from of clearance has long been an important tool for managing the upland areas of the Mournes, it is important that any such burning is controlled - it must not take place during the spring and summer period in which these birds make their nests." ENDS

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