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Gardaí appeal to reduce forest fires in 2011.

Last year saw a dramatic increase in the number of land and forest fires in Ireland, with 547 fires recorded on Coillte lands.

While some of these fires may have been started deliberately, many spread from fires started on privately owned lands which adjoin forests.

According to figures supplied by Coillte, over 780 hectares of Coillte forestry were destroyed by fire in 2010, leading to approximately €3.5 million, including crop damage and related fire fighting costs.

Under certain circumstances, and based mainly on tradition, the burning of land to clear scrub and other unwanted vegetation has become an accepted practice. Members of the community should make themselves aware of the necessary precautions relating to controlled burning by contacting the local fire services and Gardaí. In addition, local Gardaí can provide advice about the legal implications of failing to provide notification of burning and failing to take the necessary precautions to prevent a fire.

The information campaign will illustrate the dangers of uncontrolled burning and outline the legal issues. Every member of the community is responsible for the prevention and reporting of instances of illegal and uncontrolled burning activities. Suspicious activity of this kind should be reported to your local Garda station.

Speaking at the launch, Superintendent Fergus Healy, An Garda Síochána, commented:

Gardaí want to emphasise the threat that land and forest fires present to people’s lives and property. It is the responsibility of every member of the community, particularly those living near wooded areas, to comply with the legislation and undertake burning in a controlled manner. In addition, members of the community should make themselves aware of the necessary precautions relating to controlled burning by contacting the local fire services for advice or visit www.garda.ie.”

Any person intending to burn within one mile of a wooded area must inform their local Garda station in writing, no less than seven days in advance. Anyone who undertakes burning in such an area without notifying An Garda Síochána is committing an offence.

He added:

“The advice is simple. If you intend to light a fire on your premises, notify us. Be responsible and take the necessary precautions. And if you see a fire, contact the emergency services immediately by calling 112 or 999.”

An Garda Síochána is one of a number of agencies, including Coillte and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, responsible for reducing the number of land and forest fires. As part of this multi-agency approach to tackling the issue of illegal burning, An Garda Síochána has appointed Garda Inspectors in each Garda division to liaise with other interested parties to prevent and detect land and forest fires.  

John O’Sullivan, Eastern Regional Director, Coillte, said:

Coillte staff appreciate and recognise fully the valuable support provided nationwide to them by An Garda Síochána in protecting the estate from fire and other related impacts.  Valued partnerships such as these help greatly to promote awareness and protect the environment.  A further extension of this partnership and proactive approach will extend to participation by An Garda Síochána in the Coillte hosted Forest Fires Awareness Days scheduled for Thursday February 24th next in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.”

Superintendent Healy added:

Garda Inspectors have been appointed all across the country to work closely with our partner agencies and the community to prevent and detect land and forest fires. We want to reduce the number of fires in 2011 and we recognise that the best way to do that is to seek the assistance of the community. If you see suspicious activity of this kind, please contact your local Garda station or the emergency services if a fire is happening now.”

Superintendent Healy concluded:

We’re asking people to think of their neighbours and their neighbours’ property when they need to burn material. Safety should always come first. Informing Gardaí of your intention to burn is your obligation under the law and it’s your responsibility as a neighbour. Think and act responsibly at all times when considering controlled burning, particularly if it’s near a wooded area.”

1.      Current legislation

Under Section 39 of the Wildlife Act, 1976, as amended by the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000, a person shall not burn any vegetation growing within one mile of—

(a) a wood which is not the property of such person, or

(b) other lands restricted by the Wildlife Acts,

unless they have provided written notice of their intention to a Garda Station in a Garda District in which the land they intend to burn is situated.

Notice of intention to be burn must be provided between seven and thirty-five days prior to the burning.

Failure to provide written notice is an offence carrying penalties, upon conviction, of

·         First offence – fine not exceeding €634.87 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both,

·         Second offence – fine not exceeding €1,269.74 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both, and

·         Third offence – fine not exceeding €1,904.61 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twelve months or to both.

Further information is available at www.garda.ie.

2.      Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food working group

In 2010, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food established a working group, with representatives from a broad spectrum of interested stakeholders, including farmers, the forest industry, the Fire Service, the Gardai, the Defence Forces, Coillte, Teagasc and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The working group’s recommendations to the Minister on how to tackle the problem of illegal and uncontrolled burning can be viewed at http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/forestservice/landandforestfires/.

3.      Irish forestry and the economy 

According to COFORD - the Programme of Competitive Forestry Research for Development (formerly National Council for Forest Research and Development), the forest industry, comprising growing, harvesting and processing of forest products makes a significant and growing contribution to the Irish economy.  

The output in 2008 was c. €1.89 bn, or just under 1% of GDP. Over 10% of Ireland is under forest, supporting a vibrant and export oriented forest products sector. See http://www.coford.ie/publications/forestry2030/irishforestryandtheeconomy/ for more information.

4.      Impact of fires on private lands

According to the private forestry business Woodland (www.woodland.ie), at least 500 hectares of private forestry were destroyed  by fires in 2010.

Financial losses are estimated as follows:

·         €1.75 million in replanting costs

·         €1.5 million in loss of growth

·         €200,000 in fire fighting costs, not including the time and costs incurred by owners. 

Photographs of the media event are available on request from the Garda Press Office.

The table below shows the number of fires causing damage to Coillte lands and number of hectares damaged on a county by county basis.  Figures have been provided by Coillte and are for the year 2010.

County

No. Of Fires

Fire Area (Hectares)

Clare

8

18

Cork

14

19

Cavan

11

22

Carlow

4

3

Donegal

24

63

Dublin

0

0

Galway

24

394

Kildare

1

2

Kilkenny

4

25

Kerry

5

22

Louth

15

0

Limerick

5

14

Leitrim

22

28

Laois

4

5

Longford

0

0

Meath

0

0

Monaghan

2

6

Mayo

67

77

Offaly

0

0

Roscommon

9

32

Sligo

3

2

Tipperary

7

14

Waterford

2

6

Westmeath

5

3

Wicklow

10

24

Wexford

8

3

TOTAL

254

782