Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Questions (521)

Joan Burton


521. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of significant wild fires that have occurred in national parks since 1 January 2018; her plans to undertake a damage assessment of each of these wild fires; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20632/19]

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Written answers (Question to Culture)

There are six National Parks in Ireland – Killarney National Park, the Burren National Park, Connemara National Park, Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park, Glenveagh National Park and Wicklow Mountains National Park. As far as recent wildfires are concerned, two of the six National Parks have been affected since the 1st January 2018. These are Killarney National Park and Wicklow Mountains National Park.

There have been four significant fires within Killarney National Park since the 1st January 2018, three of which occurred in 2018 and one in 2019. Their locations are as follows:

The 2018 fires occurred in Doogary, Gallavally and Gortracussane.

The latest fire occurred on Torc Mountain in late March 2019.

11 significant wildfires have been reported in the largest of our National Parks, Wicklow Mountains National Park since the 1st January 2018 – seven in 2018 and four in 2019. The 2018 fires occurred in the following areas: Paddock Hill, Liffey Head, Lough Bray, Corrig Mountain/Castlekelly and Carraigeenshinnagh. In October 2018 there was a fire in Laragh East and in adjacent Drummin. It should be noted that some of these fires, namely in Liffey Head and Lough Bray, burned for weeks and were fought multiple times by hand, by water tanker and by heli bambi-buckets, although they are listed each as one fire. To date in 2019 fires have occurred at Maulin, Seefingan, Sorrel Hill and Ballydonnel South.

Regarding the damage assessment of the recent fires in Killarney National Park, operational field staff of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), generally survey and undertake assessments of impacts after each fire. The assessment procedures include mapping location/extent of the area affected, habitats affected, significance of impacts, and on occasion detailed surveys of e.g. breeding birds. Furthermore, NPWS is currently incorporating more detailed and systematic studies on the impacts of fires on the biodiversity of Killarney National Park into on-going scientific work there. As far as damage assessment is concerned, in each case, local rangers and management are aware of the extent and severity of the fire, as well as the habitats affected and inform future decisions on firebreaks, public awareness, etc. In respect of Wicklow Mountains National Park, the fires, whether in or out of the National Park are mapped as part of Site Inspection Reporting processes for SAC (special conservation area) and SPAs (special protection areas).

It is important to stress that with regard to our National Parks, on an on-going basis, officials from my Department are in close liaison with both the Gardaí and the Fire Service. My staff remain ever-vigilant when conditions exist that might result in fires in the National Parks. My Department will continue to work closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Garda Síochána, as appropriate, to investigate the causes of such fires on designated sites and national parks and, where evidence is forthcoming, to pursue appropriate enforcement under the Wildlife Acts or other legislation.

I would encourage members of the public, including landowners and recreational users, to act responsibly at all times, to be mindful of their own safety and the safety of others, to be mindful of the need to protect property both publicly owned and privately owned, and to appreciate the value of our natural heritage, particularly in our National Parks, Nature Reserves and Designated Sites.

Question No. 522 answered with Question No. 518.