The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has pointed to recent fires in Killarney National Park as an insight into the potential dangers of a rewilding policy.
“Proposals target a significant increase in the Natura 2000 designations in addition to the implementation of a strictly protected designation has the potential to radically alter our landscape,” INHFA’s Micheal McDonnell has said.
"Under the EU Biodiversity Strategy at least 10% of our land base is targeted for this rewilding proposal," he said.
The INHFA has pointed to wildfires in Killarney National Park as evidence of shortcomings in the rewilding proposal.
“Despite being resourced at levels that most farmers could only dream of, the NPWS [National Parks and Wildlife Service] failed to prevent these fires from happening and when they did happen, they also failed in their ability to contain them,” McDonnell continued.
“All of this had of course detrimental consequences for the biodiversity, not to mention the tonnes of carbon emitted from the fires.
“These fires had nothing to do with farmers and are a clear indication of what can happen when the lands are not being managed. This is currently the case in our national parks, where a rewilding policy is well established and may well be the future for at least 10% of the country by 2030.”
The comments from the INHFA have provoked a strong reaction from the NPWS, which is under the remit of the Department of Housing, with a spokesperson sayins that the "suggestion that these fires can be blamed upon 'rewilding' is preposterous" and that the NPWS was "surprised and dismayed" with the the INHFA's views.
"Wildfires are not a natural phenomenon in Ireland. The main source of “wild” fires is thought to be the deliberate starting of fires by humans, without concern for the consequences.
"In some instances fires may be set maliciously or accidentally, and there is also anecdotal evidence linking the burning and clearance of vegetation to making or keeping land eligible for the Basic Payments Scheme. Any burning at this time of year is illegal, dangerous and very damaging to wildlife especially young animals and nesting birds," the spokesperson said.
"The article states the NPWS contains fires. This is incorrect. The NPWS is not an emergency service. As was the case of the recent Killarney National Park containing the fires and a combined effort between the Fire Services from a number of local authorities, the NPWS, An Garda Síochána, Killarney Water Rescue, the Civil Defence and the Air Corps," the spokesperson added.
He also said that the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy "seeks to protect peatlands and other habitats and is crucial to Ireland’s climate targets, but nowhere does it mention re-wilding of farmland".
It is not a matter for NPWS to prevent fires from happening, the spokesperson said.
"Largely it is a question of individuals being more responsible about actions they take and being mindful of the potential damage to life, private property, and public property that can be caused by carelessly setting fires."