It is currently an offence under the Wildlife Act to burn any vegetation growing on any uncultivated land from 1 March to 31 August, but the Heritage Act 2018 allows for a relaxation of the dates of the closed period for the burning of vegetation, extending it in to March, in certain circumstances and locations.

Section 7 (1) of the Act purports to outline the regulations which would allow for the controlled burning of vegetation in the month of March. However, the regulations are ambiguous at best, and don’t give any specific detail about where the burning will be allowed, under what circumstances it will be permitted, or how it will be controlled.

Additionally, the regulations undermine, and in many cases would appear to overlook, some of our most important environmental legislation.

While the Minister made assurances last summer that there would be no damage to wildlife from this Act, the obvious lack of detail in these regulations would contradict that statement. Wildlife considerations are not a major feature in these regulations, indeed they are barely acknowledged.

Environmental NGOs, including An Taisce, have repeatedly raised concern that allowing for burning in March will be detrimental for many of Ireland’s most sensitive species, particularly for birds who begin nesting in March. These include the iconic curlew, and the seriously threatened Hen Harrier, both of which are on the brink of extinction, and nest in scrub habitats. This Act could well push them over the edge.

The Heritage Act was controversial from the get go, and faced huge public opposition. It would appear that this was justified. These regulations do not instill any confidence that Ireland’s wildlife is not seriously at risk.

Download the submission here.