Can we assume all fires are bad? Not necessarily so..
Fire has been used for centuries to effect desired changes in vegetation conditions; enabling rapid removal of unwanted, dead or less productive vegetation from land, and creating favourable conditions for new growth. John Casey & Catríona Foley, Teagasc discuss prescribed or controlled burning
Prescribed burning training
The term prescribed or controlled burning is used to describe the planned and deliberate use of fire is a potentially positive land management tool. As part of the overall Comeragh Uplands Communities EIP (Co. Waterford), habitat management and prescribed burning training was organised by Catríona Foley and Catherine Keena of Teagasc. Local hill farmers accept that they have a responsibility to conduct land burning activity in a manner which maximises the benefits to their farming enterprise while minimising risks to the land and the communities around them.
Ciaran Nugent of the Forest Service and John Casey of Teagasc provided the first stage of the prescribed burning training on the 14th December, 2021. Emphasis was placed on having a thorough knowledge of fire and its influence on vegetation under different conditions; knowledge essential to carrying out prescribed burning operations effectively and safely. A high degree of cooperation between individual farmers, other landowners and concerned stakeholders was also highlighted in order to minimise risks to property, risk of fatalities & damage to wildlife. The next training session is planned for February 2022.
Prescribed burning can be defined as the controlled application of fire to a predetermined area, at a specified time of day and season, and under specified weather and fuel conditions, so as to ensure that the intensity, rate of spread and extent of spread of the fire meet planned land management and treatment objectives, and comply with the prevailing legal, environmental and social constraints.
Under the Wildlife Acts, it is illegal to burn growing vegetation on land not cultivated between 1st March and 31st August.
Most land burning practice now relates to extensive pasture management for sheep, and limited upland beef enterprises. Burning of upland pastures, often dominated by Molinia caerulea (purple moor grass, fionán grass) and Calluna and ericacious heathers is primarily undertaken to improve grazing conditions through the removal of accumulated coarse, dead and woody material from the target vegetation. On heather dominated sites, the purpose of the fire is to encourage the development of new succulent shoots, as well as reducing overall vegetation height and the accumulated fuel load.
Balancing agricultural & conservation objectives
Changes in agricultural practice and demographics in upland areas have resulted in less intensive grazing regimes, potential land abandonment greater fuel accumulation and may increase the frequency and severity of wildfire incidence. There is a strong need to bring upland areas back into active management, which balances agricultural objectives with conservation and habitat management objectives in a sustainable manner. With the right application, prescribed fire can enable rapid and cost effective treatment of unwanted vegetation; but it is recognised that fire needs to be used with skill and understanding, if it is not to do more harm than good. Ultimately, the benefits of burning to the land must justify the effort and level of risk involved.