Mournes wildfire, one year on: ‘It could take 30 years for mountains to recover’

It could take up to 30 years for the Mourne Mountains to fully recover from a devastating wildfire last year, according to the National Trust.

By Roderick McMurray
Wednesday, 20th April 2022, 10:30 am

One year on from the blaze, the conservation charity is pleading with the public to take caution as the summer approaches.

Around 200 hectares of National Trust land were destroyed by the flames on April 23, 2021.

One of the worst hit areas was Slieve Donard, Northern Ireland’s highest mountain and a site that’s designated as a Special Area of Conservation due to the montane and dry heath, blanket bog and specialised species which thrive there.

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April 2021: a gorse fire spreads across the Mourne Mountains overlooking Newcastle, Co Down. Picture: Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Since the fire, National Trust rangers and volunteers have been working tirelessly to repair the mountain for wildlife and to prevent future fires spreading, helped by £7,500 raised through a public fundraising appeal.

Marc Vinas, Lead Ranger from the National Trust said: “Last year’s fire has had a lasting impact on the surrounding environment, which is a precious and scientifically important area that is home to a rich variety of wildlife and habitats that need our immediate care.

“In some areas you can still see the scorched vegetation and permanent change to habitats. The land has been slowly recovering, but instead of heather, we are seeing that purple moor grass has become dominant in the areas around Thomas Mountain. We will be introducing cattle to graze on this land, to reduce vegetation and in turn, the fire risk.”

Through carrying out land and drone surveys, the rangers have been able to assess the fire damage and monitor the natural regeneration of the heathland.

Marc continued: “The land has been recovering slowly, but it could take up to 30 years to restore it to what it was before.

“Our aim is to ensure the mountain gets back to full health as soon as possible for the animals and insects that live there, but also for the many people who love, care for and visit this special place.

“The good news is that there are already positive signs of recovery and some returning wildlife, including red grouse.”

The ranger team has recently acquired new equipment - thanks to funding from Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) - that will help manage vegetation, which they say could make it harder for fire to take hold in future.

“Our new equipment includes a Robocut, to manage vegetation and reduce fuel loads, and an Argocat, an all-terrain vehicle that will assist the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service respond in areas that are difficult to reach.

“We hope that with our knowledge and equipment we can work together to access this difficult terrain and protect the mountain.”

Heather McLachlan, the National Trust’s Director for Northern Ireland, said: “The Mournes is a beautiful place and it’s so wonderful to see people enjoying all it has to offer.

“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.”