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The End of Fire Season… until next year?

The cranes started passing over Pamplona yesterday evening.

They were chased by the rain that came in overnight. The first in weeks.

Autumn has thus officially started.

And hopefully also this means the end of the fire season for this year.

While Ireland braced for an almost unheard of hurricane in the North Atlantic, in northern Spain and Portugal, forest fires were killing even more people than Ophelia killed.

There were dozens burning over the weekend and until Tuesday, when the rains helped to finally extinguish them.

Unlike hurricanes, though, which are terrible, and indirectly related to man’s activities, these forest fires were only wild in the sense of the untamed destruction they could wreak. They were not natural. They were man made, purposefully started, and repeatedly so.

 

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Forest fires across Galicia, photo Diario Sur

After so many deaths, there are now questions being asked of politicians as to how these arsonists can be stopped. Spanish news has little else, other that the Catalan situation – politics and fraud, even football has been put in the background by the terrible scenes of people trying to escape burning villages only having to turn back as the roads are flanked with flames, and others park inside a motorway tunnel to wait rescue, or let the fires pass overhead.

Because these fires have been a part of summer in places like Galicia for years. As soon as the weather dries, huge tracts of forests go up there. All directly caused by humans and usually set intentionally, with a few the result of stupidity and neglect.

The people of Portugal are naturally outraged, after a summer of huge fires has been followed by an autumn death toll almost as terrible, with dozens of people claimed by the flames.

The perpetrators must be caught and jailed for their murders, but also, the politicians and police, if it is the case, must be held responsible for letting this situation get to this state. Why have these people not been caught for their previous fires? – because there’s no way these conflagrations were started by first-time arsonists.

Why do people go out of their way to set fires, driving along highways in the middle of the night with fireworks tied to helium balloons?

It’s clear they have nothing better to do, and they’re assholes of the highest calibre, but there must be some other, external, motivation for most of the fires. What is it? Why has it not been identified years ago and why has it not been removed?

There are forests that could burn just as badly and even more easily in other parts of Spain, so why are there not so many fires elsewhere? Galicia has 40% of all fires in the country, and half the area burnt every year for the last decade.

Surely the arsonists are spread out in a broader swath across the country. Or is there something about the mind-set of Galicians that makes them excessively prone to arson?

The gorse fires and heather fires we have seen in Ireland in recent years were all set intentionally for financial gain – the current agricultural subsidy system means that farmers make more money if there land is considered in use, even if it’s not.

Ultimately, stopping them will require a change in the EU farming subsidy system to allow land go fallow without farmers losing money.

Is there a financial motivation in Galicia and Portugal for setting huge fires?

According to Ecologists in Action, this is only the cause of a small proportion of the fires set.

What other factors are in play?

The use of fire for farming practices is permitted much more freely than elsewhere.

In most of Spain it is not permitted to light fires in camping and picnic areas and other recreational areas during times of fire risk. Not so in Galicia.

Vehicles are also allowed onto forest paths in Galicia during the summer, which is prohibited elsewhere.

AND they allow fireworks in village festivals during the summer, which is just asking for trouble.

 

But as I said, the summer is over.

The cranes, luckily, don’t stay long in Spain during their migration.

When they passed before on their way north I wrote this poem. Hopefully it will ease the depression of these fires. Watching the birds certainly lifts the spirit.

 

Eurasian_Cranes_migrating_to_Meyghan_Salt_Lake

European cranes. photo wikipedia – need a better camera myself!

 

The Great Migration

 

I’ve not yet seen the Serengeti,

Nor the caribou upon the artic plains

But up above my house in the hills,

I’ve been privileged to witness

The cranes migrating, calling

Eyes aloft to observe their long

Strings streaked across the sky

Huge wing beats by the thousands,

 

And can’t but wonder where

Those numbers bide in other times,

(Amazed such spaces yet exist)

And where they will find abode

In other climes.

 

 

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The Letter or the Spirit of the Law?

Last month the Irish Minister for Heritage, Heather Humphries, decided change the law to extend the season during which burning and cutting hedges and other vegetation will be permitted, despite the protestations of thousands.

HeatherHumphreysMinister_large

 

Heather Humphries. The fake smile is probably because she knows we know she’s not qualified for the job we are paying her for…

Before this, farmers could cut and burn during February, then they had to wait until September to any further work of that nature on their land. This was to protect the wildlife, especially nesting birds.

But this year they can wait until March before burning, or start in August again. Though considered unnecessary by and large, this has happened because some farmers were burning illegally last year – what more elegant solution than to make it legal do conduct such burning?

I watched some of the debate in the Seanad on this legislation. It was frustrating, as well as hilarious at times, as some politicians tried to claim the change was necessary because hedgerows were taking over our country roads and making them impossible to walk – I’d say the speed at which cars travel the roads nowadays might be more important. There are roads I’d never cycle, never mind walk, which I did twenty years ago.

This extension to destruction season comes just as climate change means some birds are breeding earlier nowadays. This year has been an exceptionally mild winter and spring will come soon, and even stopping in March will affect some birdlife.

But though the rules have changed on the insistence and lobbying of some farmers and landowners, it does not mean that fires have to rage this year like they did (illegally) last year.

If the weather is warmer (and perhaps dry – it could happen!) now, then farmers can get their burning done even earlier than they used to. They don’t have to wait until after March just because they can. There is certainly no need to wait to get the hedge cutting done – ti’s something that can be done very quickly nowadays with the machinery available.

hedge_cutter

Hedgecutting in action. You don’t need months to get this done any more, but choose the wrong month and there will be a lot of bird nests getting cut in this particular hedge. Photo from http://www.dublinplanthire.ie

The farmers who care about the land (and there are a lot of them, despite how it sometimes seems) can keep obeying the spirit of the former law, rather than the letter of the new law. The law says we can drive at 100kmph in many places that we don’t even try reach that speed.

We can always do what we think is right, regardless of what the law says we can do. Plenty of anglers release their fish even when they can legally take them home. Some hunters let the fox slink away and just watch it, rather than take a shot, though they could legally shoot that fox, since it’s considered vermin (and would be asked to if the farmer was also watching).

If we are to rewild our lands and our lives, and indeed, keep alive the little bit of wildlife we have left out there, we have to rely on the good will, and good sense, of the majority in the face of the selfishness and, ultimately, as can see with climate change, idiocy of the minority.

In farming as in other matters we need people to do right because that’s the thing to do…. like avoiding paying taxes – if we all avoided paying our taxes like the elites do, every country would come to a halt.

And a majority of people wanted this legislation stopped. A majority of the senators I saw speaking were against it. But those in power pushed it through.

We can only hope that when they are gone from power, soon enough, this legislation can be reversed to rein in those few outliers who don’t give a monkeys about out, and their, environment.

 

Rewilding a Charred Landscape…

camlough-fire-pic
(Copyright: http://www.crossexaminer.co.uk/archives/8257 the examiner)
There was a guy I used to know. He used to say he’d rather ask for forgiveness than for permission. I didn’t like him much.
There is a similar train of thought in the Irish landscape.
Burn first, then they can’t do shit. There’s nothing to save, no special interest, scientific, or scenic.
If you burn the habitat, then there are no special species to protect, and you can put up all the wind turbines you like.
(Full disclosure: I love wind turbines. If there were decent populations of birds, I think the wind turbines wouldn’t be a problem. In Spain I see hen harriers every weekend in the wheat fields on my way to my family’s village, and the place is surrounded by windmills.)
Since the start of the season (take your pick – burning season or prohibition on hedge cutting and burning season, depending on your inclination), we have had what seem like dozens of out-of-control fires burning across the country.
The idea is that if you burn the fuck out of it, nobody will bother you about saving it. How can we rewild a charred landscape? If it is dust and a few blades of grass, nobody will tell me to take care of the toads, or the curlews, or the corncrake. If there’s no gorse, never mind birch, how can those boyos contemplate bringing back the lynx, or anything else.
People (the ones with a brain) are appalled, of course, and are waiting for the relevant authorities to take action, to prosecute the culprits and make an example of them.
Needless to say, fuck all has been done about it.
It’s Ireland, after all.
Some politicians have called for wasting time by creating task forces to regulate something already explicitly illegal.
The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has claimed it’s not her bag, baby, despite all logical and legal arrows pointing to the fact that it is her fucking bag, baby and burden to shoulder and she better get her fucking finger out. http://www.thejournal.ie/gorse-fires-heather-humphreys-2065294-Apr2015/
The Irish Wildlife Trust (great people, and I’ll be donating 10% of my royalties from Peter and the Little People to them) have produced a great video to clarify this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHry6wIMYcw
And as we watch the country go backwards instead of forwards, the great shame is that farmers don’t see they are kicking themselves in the arse along with every one else. It is their own communities which are dying, their kids leaving the country to go to the cities, because there is nothing stay at home for.
Yet burning only loses revenue. A recent letter to the West Cork Times shown on the IWT facebook page showed that tourism is not compatible with burnt ground, that people won’t go to Ireland to see a charred landscape.
And yet, rewilding could bring back so much money and prosperity. Just two white-tailed eagles were worth a million in tourist revenue over the last two years, because people go there to see a beautiful creature restored to its former habitat and living wild in Ireland.
If the fucker who kills them could only see that he is only losing a few quid for a lamb mostly only in his imagination – because they probably won’t attack his animals anyway, and definitely won’t if he just locks them up well during lambing season or keeps a proper eye on them. On the other hand, his kids can get some of that money, and the much more to come as word spreads like wildfire, if he stops the stupid practices of a regressive worldview, and embraces regrowth, regeneration, and rewilding.