Mountain fire causes untold damage to wildlife habitats

May 3, 2016

A huge gorse fire on Slieve Brack mountain in Forkhill last weekend has caused extensive damage to the countryside and destroyed the important natural habitat of wildlife, environmentalists have revealed.

On Sunday night, the blaze, which is believed to have been started deliberately, spread across huge swathes of the mountain above Forkhill village and, with the thick smoke and flames, residents were urged to stay indoors and keep windows shut.

Fire crews were tasked but were forced to allow the fire to burn out as the area was inaccessible.  Strong winds fanned the blaze and it was early Tuesday before the last of the flames died down.  It will be some time before the full extent of the damage is known but a spokesperson for the Ring of Gullion project said significant important habitats have been destroyed on the mountain, which is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

“This fire has destroyed important habitats, left wildlife with no homes or a food source and the damage caused, risks the economical income coming into the area,” the spokesperson said.

“Slieve Gullion Mountain has attracted tourism from across the world.  Visitors want to walk the mountain for its beauty and the unspoilt environment – this is now under risk due to this fire.”

More than 600 hectares of Slieve Gullion is designated as a Special Area of Conservation under the EC Habitats Directive, as the area is one of the largest expanses of European Dry Heath in Northern Ireland.

Whether started accidentally or deliberately, wildfires are extremely dangerous and can spread rapidly.  And in the wake of this most recent occurrence, the public is reminded that the burning of vegetation such as heather, whins, gorse or fern is against the law between 15th April and 31st August, and must only be carried out under controlled and expert guidance at any other time of year.