Significant environmental damage is caused by illegal burning. This issue has become more acute in recent years, as evidenced by the recent spate of fires in various parts of the country, including those in Co. Kerry. Even planned and/or "controlled" burning can get out of hand very quickly, so it is critically important that every member of society realises the damage that can be caused to property and, indeed, the health and welfare of family, neighbours and the wider community, and the responding emergency services. Section 40 of the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012 prohibits the cutting, grubbing, burning or destruction of vegetation, with certain strict exemptions, from 1 March to 31 August during the nesting and breeding season for birds and wildlife. Burning of vegetation on uncultivated land is prohibited during these dates. My Department will continue to work closely with the Department of Agriculture and the Garda Síochána, as appropriate, to investigate the cause(s) of recent wild fires which have affected Killarney National Park and, where evidence is forthcoming, to pursue appropriate enforcement under the Wildlife Act or other legislation.
My Department is one of a number of agencies represented on the Inter-Agency Gorse Fire Group that explores issues surrounding wild fires. An Garda Síochána is also represented on the Group and has responsibility in leading any potential criminal investigations into wild fires. My Department cooperates fully with any Garda investigations and any other investigations that may be initiated by other statutory bodies.
My Department is exploring how best to utilise natural features within the landscape of Killarney National Park– such as streams, rivers, tracks and trails – to act as “natural fire breaks” in helping to minimise the risk of wild fires within the Park. Targeted and minimal on-site work – including the cutting back of combustible material, (furze, heathers, over-grown grassland areas) – to create these “natural fire breaks” should help to control the spread of wild fires, without impacting significantly on habitats (including “qualifying interests” in the Special Area of Conservation). A balance will have to be achieved between works necessary/desirable to assist in the control of wild fires within designated areas (such as SACs, SPAs and NHAs.) on the one hand, and the sustainable conservation and protection of the qualifying interests within such designated sites.
I would appeal to all members of the public to be more responsible about actions they take and to be mindful of the potential damage to life, private property and public property that can be caused by carelessly setting fires.