We are devasted to see the impact the fire has had on the fragile habitat of upper Slieve Donard. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been completely destroyed and will take years to recover. The heather landscape, which is a designated Special Area of Conservation, once alive with flora, fauna and diverse wildlife is now charred earth and ash.
We would like to thank the incredible efforts of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, PSNI, Forest Service, Mourne Heritage Trust, NIEA and local community over the weekend. Without their efforts the fire could have reached the upper blanket bog area increasing the damage to the biodiverse environment on the mountain.
The vulnerable landscape of the Mournes has provided joy to increasing numbers of visitors over the last year who walk here to enjoy the mental and physical health benefits that being in nature provides. We would appeal to anyone walking in the countryside to stick to the paths to prevent ground erosion, bring their litter home and of course, not to light fires or BBQs as they pose a huge risk to nature, wildlife and local communities.
As a conservation charity we now need to focus on understanding the full impact of the damage caused and how we can work together with other agencies to rebuild this important landscape.
There is an urgent need for all agencies and bodies to work together with local communities to develop a long-term vision for the Mournes, looking at land use, visitor management, infrastructure management and coping with a changing climate. It is essential this is adequately resourced.
This tragedy also highlights the need for increased action for nature’s recovery and cross-departmental commitment to create an Environment Bill that gives legal status to ambitious targets for habitat restoration, soil health and biodiversity.