A public consultation has been launched into reducing the threat of wildfires in the countryside as firefighters warn the majority of gorse fires in Northern Ireland last year were started deliberately.

In 2017, Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) attended 2,231 gorse fires.

Controlled fires started by farmers are not counted as ‘deliberate’; instead the term includes fires caused as part of anti-social behaviour and arson.

‘Putting public and property at risk’

Launching the consultation ‘Reducing Wildfires in the Countryside’, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) David Small said: “Wildfires put the safety of firefighters, the public and property at risk. They also have a devastating impact on local wildlife.

“Several important nature conservation sites, including Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), were impacted by the 2017 wildfires with significant damage occurring to habitats and species.”

Key initiatives

It’s hoped the consultation will help to identify and prioritise key initiatives to help reduce the number of wildfires in the countryside and to reduce the impacts on the environment and communities when such incidents occur.

Small added: “This public engagement is a vital exercise as it will raise awareness and help inform the development of this strategic approach, and I would encourage people to respond so that we can reduce this threat together.”

Anthony Harbinson, director of safer communities at the Department of Justice, said: “Anyone involved in illegally setting wildfires in the countryside is breaking the law. They risk not only their own safety, but that of others. They also present a very real risk to property and threaten wildlife.”

‘Reducing Wildfires in the Countryside’ is currently open for responses until Friday, March 16, 2018 on the nidirect webpage.