By Fleur Howe- Deputy & Environmental Editor
Last Monday gorse fires on Cavehill and the Black Mountain areas in Belfast were reported to the NI fire services. With no imminent threat to the public or housing nearby, firefighters were forced to hold back until there was an accessible route for them to take action. The gorse fires, presumed to be deliberate, are spreading across three sections of the hill, leaving it severely damaged. The fire department issued a warning to the people of Belfast on Tuesday to stay away from the scene and to close windows to protect against the ash and smoke.
Thankfully the fires have caused no injuries or damage to the surrounding population and properties, the same however, cannot be said for the wildlife inhabiting the areas. With various species found in the area, the fires can only be described as devastating. A large majority of the animals residing there including birds, rabbits, hares, and lizards will be killed and the ones that survive will be left with scorched habitats. Mal O’Hara, Green Party Councilor reported to BBC NI that “Fires like this can have major implications on this finely balanced environment.”. Considered one of Belfast’s most beautiful features, beyond the wildlife concern is heart breaking for the people of Belfast to see a beloved area under threat.
Beyond the considerable damage at Cavehill, various wildfires have broken out across the Mourne Mountains over the past week, putting a strain on the Fire service, and causing considerable damage to the area. The wildlife concerns at Cavehill are amplified with the fires across the Mournes, with the damage to the natural environment having the potential to affect the Northern Irish water supply. The scorched soil is exposed to erosion which makes its way into the running water which is then collected. This makes the process of treating the water to be drinkable more strenuous, the potential for significant water waste is a real concern and whilst as of yet the water appears to be unaffected it is not something to be taken lightly.
Wildfires have been linked to Artic melting, contributing to what is known as brown carbon, and whilst the scale of wildfires across Northern Ireland is significantly smaller than those in California or Siberia, its environmental effect is significant, nonetheless. Whilst a lot of the major wildfires are influenced by climate change, the fires across the Mournes and Cavehill are not as a result of climate change but deliberate actions of people utilizing the area. With the significant fires across the Mournes last April, this is becoming a concerning problem for the wildlife. As the grounds dry up with the spring, they become far more susceptible to fire spreading, thus amplifying the issue.
It is important to stress the impact these fires have and encourage people using the sites to consider their actions before being reckless. Even what seems like inconsequential actions, such as responsibly collecting all your litter, can help us maintain our local beauty spots.