The Belfast Hills sit adjacent to the large populations of Belfast, Lisburn and Newtownabbey. This places high pressure on the landscape particularly in relation to illegal behaviour such as arson. Most years a number of fires are deliberately started on the hills by young people, generally corresponding to the Easter and summer school holidays. Although fire can be a useful tool for upland management to help regenerate the heathland, theses uncontrolled wildfires can cause huge damage to nesting birds, hares and other wildlife in these summer months. If fires burn for too long they can burn the top layer of soil, destroying the seed bank, preventing any regeneration from occurring.
It is planned that all major wildfire sites mapped, surveyed and where possible compared to baseline data. This will be associated with liaison with the NIFRS, site managers and training. Analysis and interpretation will lead to land management recommendations. The potential for small controlled burns to create fire breaks, reduce fuel load and create a better mosaic of habitats for wildlife will be investigated.
This will tie in with schools landscape and environment project where school children will be educated about the impact of fires on wildlife.