A series of wildfires across the island of Ireland in upland and SPA areas has prompted calls for illegal fires to cease.

In Kerry, over 100ha of Natura 2000 land was scorched in a blaze on Friday that damaged hen harrier and curlew breeding sites.

The Hen Harrier Project, which administers a scheme for farmers aimed at conserving the endangered species, confirmed an active nest was destroyed in the fire. Hunting grounds for three other breeding pairs were also lost.

In Wicklow, firefighters from Blessington and Dunlavin were called to an area of ground near the Kilbride Army Camp to bring a gorse fire under control.

Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture Pippa Hackett said the fires raging across upland areas were “appalling to see and devastating for wildlife”.

“As Minister for Land Use & Biodiversity, I call on all farm organisations to publicly remind their upland members that this is illegal and highly destructive, and to be vigilant,” Minister Hackett said.

Closed season

The closed season for burning began on 1 March and remains in place until 31 August.

The burning of vegetation during this period is prohibited under the Wildlife Act.

Minister Hackett added: “Not only is it illegal to burn land at this time of the year, it is totally irresponsible, so please don’t start one. It damages habitats, kills wildlife, pollutes the air, and puts immense pressure on our emergency services.”

Gorse fire

On Slieve Donard, the highest peak in the Mourne Mountains in Co Down, a large gorse fire took hold in the early hours of Friday.

The NI Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) urged people to avoid the area over the weekend due to the likelihood of further fires.

Northern Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture Edwin Poots condemned the fire.

In a Tweet, Poots said: “Sickening that one human can cause so much damage to our environment and biodiversity in the beautiful Mournes. Thank you so much to the NIFRS and first responders.”