Partnership urges end to gorse fires destruction
With 47 gorse fires in the Belfast area in the last fortnight, the Belfast Hills Partnership has appealed to a higher power to tackle what is becoming a crisis for local wildlife.
Resurrecting an ancient tradition, the Partnership had Fr Michael Murtagh, rector of Clonard monastery, and Rev Gregory Dunstan from St Matthew’s Church of Ireland on the Shankill ‘bless the gorse’ on Friday.
They were joined by the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) who are calling for an end to fire setting in the hills.
The fires have cost the fire service more than £35 million in the past five years and last year saw a 158 percent increase in the number of gorse fires across Northern Ireland.
Fr Murtagh said: “To bless something is to speak well of it, to say that it is to be respected and cherished — not destroyed or maltreated. So it is an attitude of gratitude and respect that we are trying to promote rather than one of destroy and disrespect.”
Rev Dunstan of St Matthew’s said: “The prayer is said, ‘Lord God we ask you to protect the hills and mountains around us at this time of year from any outbreak of fire’.”
Jim Bradley Belfast Hills Partnership manager said: “Everyone can play a part. Report fires by calling 999 and never assume that someone else is doing it. Use your mobile phone to call if you are outside. The presence of fires has a huge impact on the wildlife in the Belfast Hills — particularly in spring.”
The NIFRS believes that some of the 47 gorse fires between March 20 and April 3 were started accidentally, but that the vast majority were deliberate.
Brian Stanfield, Station Commander at Springfield Fire Station said: “To tackle this growing community problem, NIFRS is continuing to work closely with the local community and a wide range of partners, including the Belfast Hills Partnership — because by working together we can make a real difference to safeguarding our community and our environment.
“The community in Belfast needs to decide where they want their Fire & Rescue Service — up mountains tackling deliberately set fires or at their local fire stations ready to deal with life-threatening emergencies and protecting our community.
“When individuals decide to deliberately go out into our countryside or up our mountains to start fires deliberately, they are putting not only firefighters’ lives at risk but also everyone in the local community.”