Northern Ireland

Tyrone moor on fire is habitat for hen harriers

Smoke can be seen rising from the blaze at Mullaghfad forest
Image caption Smoke can be seen rising from the blaze at Mullaghfad forest

A large moor on fire in County Tyrone is a key habitat for a protected and vulnerable bird of prey.

The area close to Mullaghfad Forest, near Fivemiletown, has special status due to its population of hen harriers.

It forms part of a Special Area of Protection which affords its conservation status under EU rules.

The fire service said there had been 511 gorse fires in Northern Ireland since the start of May - 302 gorse fires at the weekend.

At least 80% of the weekend fires were started deliberately, the fire service said.

Mullaghfad is part of a large forest area which includes Crocknagrally, Jenkin and Fardross forests.

Image copyright RSPB IMAGES
Image caption The area close to Mullaghfad Forest has special status because of its population of hen harriers

It is home to about 10 breeding pairs of hen harrier, a quarter of the Northern Ireland population.

The habitat is also one of the best examples of upland blanket bog in Northern Ireland.

It is the second day that the fire service has been on the site.

Dozens of personnel are involved in battling the blaze and specialist equipment, including tanker lorries bringing water to the site, have been deployed.

It is understood the fire may have been started in a number of different locations.

Image copyright Keith Elliott
Image caption The popular Cuilcagh Mountain trail has been closed to the public since a fire broke out on Sunday
Image copyright Photo courtesy of Amy Burns
Image caption The damage caused by weekend fire on Cuilcagh mountain

There has been a consistent problem of unregulated burning in the area.

In 2004, a large fire destroyed about 400 hectares of bog and destroyed hen harrier nests.

'Deliberate'

Meanwhile, the Cuilcagh Mountain trail has been closed to the public due to the gorse fire which started on Sunday.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) has been battling hundreds of fires in the last week.

The majority of these incidents (407) occurred in either the Southern (245) or Western (162) areas.

Downpatrick, County Down, and Lurgan, County Armagh, have been the busiest stations with 46 and 41 incidents respectively.

Image copyright NIFRS
Image caption Fire crews have dealt with 498 gorse fires since the start of May

Area Commander Maurice Rafferty appealed to the community to "remain vigilant when in the countryside".

"Deliberate fire setting has major consequences - it ties up our vital resources from other more serious incidents and potentially puts people and property at risk.

"These fires can easily spread and even a slight change in wind direction can pose a serious risk to life, property and the environment."

Image caption Fire crews have been at the scene of the fire at Mullaghfad forest since Sunday morning

How to prevent fires in countryside

  • Make sure cigarettes and other smoking materials are fully extinguished
  • Never leave barbeques unattended and make sure they are fully extinguished before disposing of contents
  • Avoid lighting fires in open countryside
  • Do not leave bottles or glass in woodlands
Image copyright NIFRS
Image caption Group Commander Stanfield said gorse fires were 'resource intensive'

More on this story