THE IFA is continuing to lobby the government to allow landowners legally burn gorse for a greater period of time every year.
Currently, the managed burning of gorse is permitted from September 1st until March 1st. However, Neilie O’Leary, Cork IFA hill farming representative, said this should be extended until at least the end of March.
The Bantry farmer was speaking after controlled burnings took place last week in Skibbereen, Schull, Tragumna, Bantry, Beara and Cape Clear, prompting criticism from a local Green Party representative who said they were damaging to both wildlife and humans.
However, Mr O’Leary said gorse fires have been part of ‘upland management for generations’ and he said that they very often increase the fertility of the land afterwards.
‘Most of these fires are necessary and we’re actually looking for an extension to the period that they’re allowed. In Northern Ireland and Scotland gorse fires are legal until April – how are we so different here?’
He said that quite often the weeks during the legal time frame are not dry enough to satisfactorily burn gorse.
‘A far bigger problem would be a lack of management, not to burn the gorse, and to allow more growth to load on, so if someone cracked a match the whole place would go up, like California.
‘It must be done responsibly and everyone must play their part. We’re lobbying the Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan to get the laws changed. They are doing a disservice to people who have no other means of removing gorse, and who risk a penalty in their Cap payments for not having grazeable land.’
However, Skibbereen Green Party representative Rory Jackson, who also runs the ‘Stop Gorse Fires’ Facebook group said he felt gorse fires were in fact being used as a tool to simply increase grant aid.
‘I think it would be a major step forward if we could at least ensure that all land owners required a licence for gorse fires during the season they’re permitted,’ he said.
Ultimately though Mr Jackson said the fires were causing ‘incalculable damage’ to the wider biodiversity of the area.
‘They’re leaving bigger animals without food; a whole breeding ground, life source is removed and on top of that burning is killing by suffocation,’ he said.
He also said that anyone who can smell smoke, is breathing it: ‘Gorse fires are basically like passive smoking.’
‘Just because land owners have been doing this for generations doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question it.
‘It’s insane to think we should be seeing a call for a longer burning season right into and beyond the natural nesting period.’
Skibbereen Fire Brigade was just one of the units out tackling gorse fires last week at locations in Tragumna and Church Cross.
A spokesperson said they were ‘controlled,’ but ‘did present a cause of concern of some residents.’