Bray/Greystones, Co Wicklow: Council Investigate Cause Of Cliff Walk Fire That Destroyed Hundred Of Acres Of Heathland

23 Apr


By J. P. Anderson:

Wicklow County Council are currently investigating the likely cause of a wildfire that has totally destroyed hundreds of acres of mountain heathland along the Bray to Greystones cliff walk that is 6kl in length between the landmark Bray Head and the North Beach and new harbour development at Greystones.

The devastating fire, which appears to have been set deliberately, occurred in the early days of April 2011 according to locals.

The fire came perilously close to houses and it has certainly totally destroyed the natural habitats of both flora and fauna on the mountain heathland.

The fire has destroyed hundreds of acres of the mountainside from the railway line sidings at the lower level to the top of the mountain contour along most of the scenic cliff walk.

The walking trail offers two defined pathways that run at both the lower level, which is the most used walk, because it is a mostly flat pathway and is much favoured by elderly walkers, joggers and tourist, who for the most part may be unaware of the second summit-walk along the mountain top.

Walkers and local residents expressed their deep dismay at the destruction of the much loved mountain landscape, used by tens-of-thousands of walkers all year around and the cliff walk is particularly busy during the high tourist summer season, because it is readily accessible from both ends of the trail at Bray Head and from Greystones.

Many walkers and groups take the Dart Train from Dublin City to Greystones or Bray stations and then walk along the cliff to the towns at either end, returning to their destination again by the Dart Train which runs a frequent service along the coastline to destinations that include Howth and Malahide.

A previous fire on Bray Head destroyed a large area of furze and while grass and a few other species of flora are in evidence struggling to re-establish in the destroyed acreages of heathland, fauna remain absent as they are without their natural habitat in which to re-establish.

Habitat loss is the main threat to heathland, mainly from land elimination, tree planting, excessive burning, invasion by pine and birch, motorbike scrambling, horse riding and Bracken fern invasion.

On the poor soils of heathlands, plants take a long time to re-establish ground cover following damage.

Unwise management of heathlands can cause major changes in the habitat. Fire was traditionally used to maintain a mosaic of heather of different ages which allows for the traditional plants of heathlands to establish themselves.

However, the repeated burning of the heath helps the spread of Bracken which can dominate the heathland because few other plants can grow near its poisonous roots.

One of the main threats is from the fragmentation of the heathland.

There is a direct link between the size of the heath and he number of species present – smaller heaths having far fewer species of plants and animals.

The large expanses of heathland are been broken up by reclamation for other land uses. Now only small patches of the heathlands remain, so that if an area id damages, for example by fire, the plants and animals cannot re-colonise it because the fragments are many kilometres apart.

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