T6. Mr Buckley asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, given that he looked on in horror at the devastation caused by the fires in the Mourne Mountains and responded quickly to them, to elaborate on actions that can be taken by his Department and others to help to rebuild the wildlife population in the Mournes. (AQT 1266/17-22)
There needs to be a lot of engagement with the landowners there, including the National Trust, which is a large landowner, and we need to work closely with them. An example of a place that has worked extremely well is Glenwherry Hills, where there has been close engagement with the local farming community. As a result of the work between the farming community and NGOs, we have a lot more wildlife, including species of ground-nesting birds that were under threat. Tremendous work has been done there. Good work has been done in those areas on muirburn, which is strip-burning. Consequently, we do not have the devastating damage that is caused by huge fires. <BR/>The other aspect is that, by working well with local farming communities, we can ensure that there is no overgrazing or undergrazing. Both of those lead to circumstances in which gorse gets out of hand, which leads to gorse fires.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Minister, you will know that there was an intense reaction and, in fact, affection for the members of our fire service who took part in tackling the blaze. Can the Minister elaborate on whether there is any way that the community can get more involved in helping when situations such as this develop on our mountains?
The community response was fantastic. They recognised that the fire personnel were working extremely hard up those mountains. The food did not come just from the Newcastle area. The people of Newcastle were absolutely fantastic, but people sent provisions for the fire personnel down from Belfast and from far beyond the immediate area.
In areas with that quality heathland and those beautiful landscapes, we need to work with communities and NGOs to create opportunities. I have just announced the environmental fund, which is some £2 million. I encourage the NGOs and councils that manage those sensitive areas to get in really good applications, get funding from elsewhere and maximise the support that they get from my Department by getting support from others as well and come forward with really good schemes, so that we can continue to develop, build and enhance our environment.