The end of the Heather burning season...
The end of February marks the end of the season in which upland heather can be burnt. To protect ground-nesting birds and other wildlife, burning is not allowed from the beginning of March up to the end of August. Grouse start selecting their nest sites in March. They may be County Waterford's most threatened bird species and they should benefit from the close season.
Burning is a practice that has gone on for thousands of years and the existance of heathery habitats probably depends on it. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) believes that the best interval between burns on any piece of ground is about fifteen years and that burns should be in smallish patches of varied sizes-garden-sized. Grouse eat the tender shoots of short heather plants and hide their nests among the taller plants. Burning heather in patches that are too big separates much of the feeding ground from the shelter and makes it hard for young chicks to hide. It also means that as the heather grows tall in very big patches, future fires can be uncontrollable.
Where heather grows in a mixture with the tall poisonous Bracken Ferns, burning can often lead to the Bracken taking over completely from the heather, which benefits nobody as sheep do not eat it and the spores are dangerous for people to breathe in during the summer months. In the past, mixed grazing was commoner and cattle, horses and sometimes maybe even pigs were allowed to graze on uplands and between them they apparently kept the balance between heather and bracken. Flocks of sheep on their own unfortunately help bracken to as they eat most other plants and leave it behind to thrive on its own.
Legally, any fire on the mountain should be attended while it burns so that people are not put in danger and so the fire can be put out before the burnt patch grows too big.