Farmers have been called on to cease setting illegal fires as the open period for burning gorse has now ended.
Approximately 50ha of uplands were destroyed in a blaze that spread rapidly across Scarr Mountain in Co Wicklow, overlooking Lough Dan on Sunday, 7 March.
Areas of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Co Laois were also damaged on the same day by a wildfire.
Speaking at the site of the blaze in Wicklow, Minister of the State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan stated that such events are a “massive draw on emergency services”.
Minister Noonan said: “We really need this type of activity to stop, it’s just not acceptable at a time of biodiversity emergency when it is causing such utter devastation.
“We want landowners to work with us for nature and for farming.”
The blaze was close to a Coillte-owned forest, as well as a number of private dwellings. The ground burned is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA).
Wesley Atkinson, regional manager of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) criticised the illegal fire and stated he was in no doubt that these fires were started deliberately.
“Unfortunately events like this are illegal and out of season which impacts on biodiversity,” he added
Atkinson acknowledged farmers’ rights to graze the hills, but added that an agreement is needed where “biodiversity wins but where farmers also have a livelihood”.
The NPWS has further appealed to members of the public to consider their actions before setting fires as it impacts on the emergency services in the middle of a pandemic.
While biodiversity loss is a major concern as a result of illegal burning, Atkinson highlighted that it also creates other problems such water and air pollution.
Blanket bogs in upland heath habitats are of enhanced significance in society due to their role as a carbon sink, the NPWS official said.
“Burning it, releases it [carbon] back into the atmosphere.”