Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Burning Issue

When the issue of ‘Control of Vegetation’ by burning is mentioned the perception is of destruction, uncontrolled fires and prescribed burning dates. Complex regulations have to be cleared to get permission to burn the heather and frequently by the time the red tape is completed, the correct weather conditions have passed.

Farmers are sensible people. They have no desire to ruin their land and vegetation. Over- regulation causes aggravation and frequently, through no fault of their own, they are penalised even when the fire may have spread on to their land or been caused accidently by ramblers.

What type of burn is required to control heather? The word ‘burn’ is highly emotive and maybe not the correct one to use….however, if one compares heather burning with human burns, these could be similarly categorised.

Burn degree

Effect on Skin

Effect on Heather

Superficial Epidermis
5 –10
Heals well.

Superficial Surface
Rapid regrowth from lateral buds, rare species in undergrowth
Good ground cover increased biodiversity
Superficial burn extending into papillary dermis
less than
2–3 weeks
Local infection but no scarring typically

surface burn
ash fertilizer
6+ months
2nd +
Deeper burn extending into reticular dermis
3 - 8
(may require
skin grafting)

Extends to depth 4 cm
9+ months
Slow regeneration
Burn extending through full epidermis and entire dermis
Prolonged (months) and incomplete
(may require amputation / skin grafting)

Extends into deep layers

2 - 3 years
Some regeneration from surviving root.

Extends through entire skin, and into underlying fat, muscle and bone
Amputation, significant functional impairment and, in some cases, death.

Complete root layer destroyed
Black, charred root structure prone to weather damage
4-5 years
Very slow regeneration.
Possible susceptibility to undesirable invasive species

Unfortunately, examples of the fourth degree burns have been seen throughout the country. In Wicklow, the fires at Sally Gap some years ago were so severe that the heather is only now just recovering.

The first degree burn is ideal. As a child in Donegal, I accompanied an old farmer up the hills when he was checking his herd. He appeared to be a pyromaniac. He would chuck lighted matches as he walked along. The result I remember was small pockets of singed vegetation. Thinking about this now, this regime produced a mosaic of vegetation with various stages of maturity. Only the portions that were becoming woody burnt. The burns to the woody portions were the equivalent of a rough pruning. It encouraged regeneration of the heather but did minimal damage to the other vegetation and wild life. It probably enhanced the environment, there were skylarks and insects in abundance combined with a rich flora.

The areas burnt were small, the largest would have been no more than a football pitch and some in fact were very small pockets. The surrounding fresh vegetation had sufficient moisture content to stop the spread and was a safe refuge for the fauna during the burning. This was feasible with a well-managed hillside.   Sadly it may take at least 10 years to restore our uplands to this stage.

This type of first degree burn would require very few controls other than to inform County Council and fire authorities that it was happening.  This works well in in the Boleybrack grouse project in Co. Leitrim.

Problems could arise in areas of proximity to forestry and whine/gorse or with a sudden wind just blowing burning Molina, but if adopted on commonage and where all users were on hand uncontrolled burning would be minimised.

Claire Chambers
WUC Board Member

No comments:

Post a Comment