Thursday, 31 March 2016

How to Enjoy the Outdoors Responsibly with Your Dog?

Responsible Dog Owners by Leave No Trace Ireland


"Take responsibility for your dog by having it licenced, micro-chipped and ensuring it wears an ID tag at all times.  If your dog is in an area where it is allowed to be off lead and which is also safe for the dog, it should still be kept under control at all times. This means your dog is always within sight and will return when called. Practice recall with your dog at home to help you both learn good control for when you are out and about. Look up dog-friendly areas near you or in the area you are visiting and please try to consider other visitors, wildlife and farm animals. Responsible dog ownership makes the outdoors experience better for everyone.” States the Leave No Trace Ireland guide for dog owners.
The Wicklow Cheviot Sheep Owners’ booklet adds: “Keep your dog away from areas where there are livestock even if on a lead. Sheep and lambs are very vulnerable to dog activity and they will view even the friendliest pet dog as a predator and be very nervous of it. Being chased by a dog causes a very high level of stress among sheep and lambs and can easily result in their death. All cattle, especially bulls and cows with calves, can be very aggressive towards a dog, as they will consider it to be a predator. A farmer has the right to shoot a dog that they consider is worrying livestock on that farmers' land."

Dog control has become a major issue in Wicklow due to the increased recreational use of the hills and an increase in incidents of dogs attacking sheep was reported recently. 

Many dog owners are not aware of the problems that their dog can create for farmers and landowners in rural areas.  Uncontrolled dogs are a serious threat to the livelihood of upland farmers.  Dogs loose on the hills may cause anxiety to sheep causing them to be displaced. Other threats include early abortion of lambs and dogs directly attacking sheep causing severe injury or death. The problem is not limited to walkers’ dogs as damage is often caused by local dogs which stray from neighbouring properties, therefore it is crucial that as a responsible dog owner you know where your dog is at all times.
The law requires that all dogs must be under effectual control.  Effective control means that your dog will come at your command. If not, your dog must be kept on a lead.  Dog owners need to respect other walkers, local farmers and landowners and their wishes identified through signage.  Dogs should never be off a leash when close to livestock and again dog owners should be aware of where their dogs are at all times.

For a number of years Wicklow Uplands Council has worked closely to foster good relationship between hillwalkers and upland landowners.  In general, private landowners welcome responsible recreational use of the hills and central to this is responsible dog ownership.  Wicklow Uplands Council, Wicklow IFA and Wicklow Cheviot Sheep Owners Association have agreed to support the use of signage to prohibit dogs on private land where livestock are present.  This move came in an effort to alleviate the negative impacts of uncontrolled dogs particularly at key hotspots where recreational use is high and sheep are present including Glenmalure, Glendalough, Glenmacnass and Lugnaquilla.  A consistent message is promoted which requests recreational users to respect grazing animals, wildlife and other recreational users and leave their dogs at home.  
“Walkers are welcome in County Wicklow but please respect local signage and leave dogs at home if you intend to access land where livestock are present.  There are many places that are suitable for dog walking across the county including Coillte forests but please remember that dogs must be under effectual control in these areas.” emphasized Brian Dunne, Co-ordinator of Wicklow Uplands Council.

It is expected that only about one third of the dogs in Wicklow are properly licenced.  Enforcement of dog licencing has the potential to generate a substantial revenue which could be ‘ring-fenced’ and put back into greater enforcement, education and legislation on dogs. There are currently only two dog wardens in the County and they cannot possibly enforce current legislation.  There are calls for a group comprising of landowners, GardaĆ­ and the local authority to be formed to promote responsible dog ownership and for enforcing the existing legislation. The new micro chipping legislation is very important and all dogs need to be micro-chipped from the 1st of April 2016, this is very welcome and a positive step for dog welfare.

The education of dog owners is a key priority. The Leave No Trace Ireland guide and the Wicklow Cheviot Sheep Owners’ booklet are useful resources for dog owners and can be downloaded from Wicklow Uplands Council’s website
If you witness an incident of sheep worrying or damage to livestock please report it immediately to: Wicklow County Council Ph: 0404 20236 or Email: If you see a stray dog in the hills please report it immediately to the ISPCA Dog Warden Service Ph: 0404 44873.

Author: Lenka Mulligan, Communications Officer, Wicklow Uplands Council

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Controlled Burning Partnership Established in Wicklow

Controlled Burning Partnership Established in Wicklow.

Glendalough by Phillip Wells

Wicklow Uplands Council provides a platform where different partners can discuss issues and work together towards a consensus. This time the focus was on burning in the uplands. There is a real threat that the overgrown heather which covers large areas of Wicklow Mountains, due in part to the decline in hill farming, could accidentally catch a fire in the dryer summer months and could cause significant destruction to habitats, soil and have a detrimental effect on wildlife, birds, forestry and our dwellings. With the aim to prevent such disaster and to create a plan for the uplands a workshop on Controlled Burning took place on February 12th, 10am-3pm in GAA complex, Roundwood, Co Wicklow.

Over 150 people attended this important event organised by Wicklow Uplands Council and supported by a large number of agencies including Coillte, Irish Farmers Association, Irish Uplands Forum, The Fire Service, The Forest Service, Mountaineering Ireland, The National Parks and Wildlife Service, Teagasc and Wicklow Cheviot Sheep Owners Association. The workshop began indoors and was followed by a practical demonstration of controlled burning at Powerscourt Paddock on Djouce Mountain.   

The indoor session covered presentations from various speakers. Declan Byrne of Teagasc spoke about controlled burning from an agricultural perspective. He emphasized hill sheep farmers' priorities in the uplands which include: income (subsidies, GLAS / AEOS), feeding for sheep, preservation of the hills, biodiversity, habitats, protected species, and fire prevention. He said: "The cheapest, most sustainable and environmentally friendly way to manage hills is through farming". In his view long term management plans (at least 10 years long) for hills and commonages would work best for vegetation control. They should include grazing, controlled burning and cutting / swiping.


Enda Mullen, District Conservation Officer with NPWS, spoke about negative environmental impacts of uncontrolled fires in Wicklow. These include: destruction of rare birds nesting sites; deaths of old famine trees, insects, bird chicks; loss of food for wildlife; smoldering of soil which changes soil function, nutrients and ability to hold water; spread of unwanted plants such as bracken; soil erosion and water pollution.  She also talked about the social and human impacts of uncontrolled burning such as damage to property; cost of firefighting, safety, fire fighter fatigue and smoke inhalation. Enda made a plea: “I hope for a new start, that from now on the approach for uplands and burning will be different and fire will be used only as a management tool, no more uncontrolled burning”.

The Boleybrack Red Grouse Management Project in North Leitrim was the first place in the country where controlled burning took place in a NATURA 2000 Site (Special Area of Conservation) a few years ago.  John Carslake the game keeper in the project shared his experience with controlled burning for biodiversity. He asked: “What do we want from a controlled burn? Actively farmed commonage which is rich in biodiversity, grouse and wildlife species”. John emphasized that the project has resulted in the presence of an array of wild birds on Boleybrack Mountain.

Ciaran Nugent, from the Forest Service, explained fire theory and safety and shared his experience of controlled burning in County Kerry.  Ciaran highlighted that the Forest Service use the term prescribed burning to describe the planned and deliberate use of fire as a land management tool.  He stressed the importance of being prepared; having a burning plan in place; notifying the relevant stakeholders; having proper safety & burning equipment and having able-bodied people available on the day to assist in the burn.  The Forest Service and the Dept. of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have published the ‘Prescribed Burning Code of Practice – Ireland’ which outlines all the key steps and equipment needed to carry out a controlled burn.

The outdoor session involved an in depth discussion of the merits and practicalities of heather burning on the Wicklow Mountains National Park site at Powerscourt Paddock.  Conservationists, mountaineers, wildlife rangers, scientists, firefighters, farmers, agricultural professionals and journalists discussed the safe and appropriate use of fire in the uplands.  Pat Dunne (Wicklow Uplands Council and IFA) stressed to landowners present that the onus is on them to carry out controlled burning responsibly.  He highlighted that the proposed introduction of new pilot measures to allow burning into March under certain condition has not yet been introduced and the measures will only proceed if controlled burning is carried out responsibly from now on.  Despite wet conditions and rain, a live demonstration of safe ignition techniques using straw was carried out.

Brian Dunne, the Co-ordinator of Wicklow Uplands Council, is hopeful that the success of this workshop will discourage uncontrolled burning this year.  He said: “This workshop marks the beginning of a new era with all interested parties working in partnership towards the use of controlled burning as a land management tool and combating wildfire problems, not only in Wicklow but on a national level.”  The Wicklow Uplands Council’s ‘Study to Identify Best Management of Upland Habitats in County Wicklow’ identified the need for collaboration between stakeholders for best practice in controlled burning and identified the need for the establishment of small controlled burning groups who would play a vital role in assisting landowners carry out controlled burning.  It is also expected that there will soon be a call for applications for a new Locally Led Agri-Environment Scheme for upland areas.  Such scheme will be based on the Burren Farming for Conservation Model whereby farmers would be rewarded for maintaining healthy upland habitats and controlled burning will have an integral role to play in achieving this goal.  

Author: Lenka Mulligan, Communications Officer, Wicklow Uplands Council