The alarming scale of the fire in Mourne Mountains shows need for a focused environment policy for Northern Ireland

News Letter editorial of Monday April 26 2021:

Monday, 26th April 2021, 5:37 am
Updated Monday, 26th April 2021, 9:00 am
News Letter editorial

Anyone who has been out walking in the Northern Ireland countryside in the last week or two might have noticed how dry it was underfoot.

Even pathways and sections of ground that were soggy and water-logged for months over the winter were suddenly hard and almost dusty.

Who would have thought that these conditions would lead to such as serious gorse fire in the Mourne Mountains.

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April is not yet out and the summer has barely begun.

Yet the Co Down mountain range, the joys of which Percy French famously put to music, was the centre of a three-day major incident which was only de-escalated yesterday afternoon. Great damage has been down to the terrain, to wildlife, to biodiversity and the visual appeal of this popular hilly area.

Most alarming of all, the blaze was at risk of spreading to forested slopes that lead down from the peaks. Thanks to the tiring and dangerous work of firefighters, this was averted.

We hear about forest fires in California but do not expect them to be a problem in rural Ulster. After all, Northern Ireland is sufficiently damp that it rarely has even the sort of drought conditions that can be seen in southern England. Last year, however, NI came close to that. The fine weather of April and May made lockdown more pleasant for people who could get outdoors, but presented environmental challenges.

The climate is changing, even though the scale of that change is unknown, as well as the exact distribution of cause. But human conduct is clearly part of the mix and the consequences are so grave that it makes sense to act on the precautionary principle.

NI will not solve this global issue alone of course. But we have some of the slackest approaches to environmental protection on these islands —unless of course there is money. When that was on offer in RHI or wind turbines, there was a sudden interest in ecological schemes.

Such cynicism is not good enough. Stormont needs a radical new focus on environmental policy.

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Alistair Bushe