While some environmental damage to our uplands has occurred in recent years, much of it as a result of illegal burning, as evidenced by the recent spate of fires in various parts of the country, it is important to note that some improvements have occurred. The serious overgrazing that resulted in many western uplands being stripped of all vegetation has now ceased and the hills in question have substantially recovered from this threat.
With regard to fires, my Department continues to work closely with An Garda Síochána, the fire services and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as appropriate, to investigate the causes of wildfires which have affected a number of our designated sites and national parks and, where evidence is forthcoming, to pursue appropriate enforcement under the Wildlife Acts or other legislation.
In so far as national parks are concerned, departmental staff are vigilant when conditions exist that could result in fires. The Deputy will appreciate that, given the sheer scale of property involved, covering hundreds of square kilometres, the remote locations of much parkland and the sporadic occurrence and dynamic nature of recent fires, it is very difficult to fully discourage and prevent unauthorised burning. In addition, it can be difficult to identify those who deliberately set fires in remote areas without concern for the consequences. In this regard, I encourage members of the public, including landowners and recreational users, to act responsibly at all times, be mindful of their own safety, the safety of others and the need to protect property, both publicly and privately owned, and appreciate the value of our natural heritage, particularly in our national parks, nature reserves and designated sites.