The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said it is supporting calls from other agencies and farming organisations for the help of farmers and the public in the prevention of wildfires ahead of dry weather periods.

The union said it is backing the calls from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to farmers, land managers and the public.

UFU hill farming chair, Alastair Armstrong, said spells of dry weather have been forecasted for the coming weeks and that “the best way” to prevent an outbreak of wildfires is for farmers, landowners and the public to participate in a collaborative prevention effort.

“Since February 2023, there have been over 100 wildfires in Northern Ireland and despite the recent rainfall, ground and vegetation conditions are relatively dry which can cause fires to catch and spread quickly.

“This will become even more of a risk when the sunny weather does begin. Wildfires have the potential to endanger wildlife, livestock, rural residents and firefighters. The financial impact also caused by wildfires can be costly,” he added.

Armstrong said visitors in rural areas and residents must be mindful of wildfires especially during the summer months.

“In the majority of cases, wildfires are started by humans either deliberately or through carelessness. Wildfires are illegal and the deliberate setting of wildfires is a criminal offence,” he said.

Wildfire advice

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) warned that, although the weather has been changeable recently, ground and vegetation conditions are relatively dry which can cause fires to catch and spread quickly, particularly during spells of dry weather.

The UFU urged farmers, land managers and the general public to follow wildfire prevention and control advice.

This advice includes:

  • If you see a fire in the countryside, report it immediately to the fire and rescue service. Don’t attempt to tackle fires that will take more than a bucket of water to put out. Leave the area as soon as possible;
  • Report any suspicious behaviour to the police;
  • Avoid using open fires in the countryside;
  • Extinguish cigarettes and other smoking materials properly;
  • Never throw cigarette ends out of car windows;
  • Be considerate in parking vehicles so as not to impede access by emergency vehicles;
  • Only use barbeques in designated and safe areas and never leave them unattended; Keep children and ball games away from barbecues;
  • Ensure that barbecues are fully extinguished and cold before disposing of their contents. Better still, take your used BBQ home for safe disposal;
  • Do not leave bottles or glass in woodlands. Sunlight shining through glass can start a fire. Take them home or put them in a waste or recycling bin.

NIFRS has also called for the public to be vigilant to help prevent wildfires as warmer weather approaches.

Last year, the service said it dealt with over 1,200 wildfires all of which were caused by “human behaviour and are preventable”.

DAERA warned that over 100 wildfires have been reported in Northern Ireland in the past three months and said that it is down to the actions of the public to reduce the number of incidents.

Wildfire prevention

NIFRS lead wildfire officer, group commander Ryan Thompson, said preventable wildfires take firefighters away from local towns and communities where they would be ready to respond when they are needed most.

“Wildfires are caused by human behaviour and so we are calling on the community to be alert to the risk of wildfires when enjoying the countryside,” he said.

“Don’t use open fires in the countryside and don’t be careless with smoking materials, barbeques or any other flames.

“However, often these fires are being started deliberately. Purposely setting a wildfire is a criminal offence, they can be devastating to the environment and wildlife, and they ultimately put people’s lives at risk. If you see someone deliberately setting a fire please report it immediately.”

Thompson said responding to wildfires also puts an added pressure on the fire service and its partner agencies who “are frequently required to respond alongside us”.

NPWS bog forest fire warning DAFM

“It is gruelling work for our firefighters as it takes us hours, and sometimes even days, to put wildfires out,” he said.

“We want the public to enjoy our beautiful countryside and green spaces, but to do so responsibly and by following our safety advice.

“The responsibility of preventing wildfires belongs to all of us and we all need to do our part and stay vigilant.”

DAERA warned that wildfires can take hold and spread quickly on dry ground, causing “potentially devastating consequences”.

Wildfires are illegal, the department said, and the deliberate setting of them is a criminal offence.

“Wildfires are almost always started by humans either deliberately or through carelessness. They put lives at risk, destroy our surroundings and the wildlife in them, and are a real cost to society,” DAERA said.