Controlled prescribed burning

Land owners and managers usually carry out prescribed burning from mid-March to mid-April, because weather and ground conditions best suit the work. However, prescribed burning if carried out incorrectly can be one of the causes of wildfires that then requires Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS), PSNI, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Forest Service to act.

Peatlands are some of the most valuable ecosystems on earth. Farmers and landowners are key doing great work to protect peatland under their control. Peatlands provide a range of services such as water purification, flood alleviation, historical archive and recreational opportunities.

Since the mid 1980’s farmers and landowners who participated in agri-environmental schemes, included a restriction on the amount of land that can be controlled by prescribed burning. Grazing has also been restricted on many sites. Since then, there has been an increasing fire load of heather, bracken and dead grass in many areas, and this is a huge wildfire risk.


Controlled/prescribed burning can be undertaken from the 1st September until 14th April. It is a management tool used in the uplands for grouse, deer, livestock production and the prevention of wildfires by making fire breaks. Burning also suppresses tree and scrub spread and the eventual progression of moorland to woodland cover.

The impact of burning on the functioning of a peat bog, on typical bog species and habitats and on ecosystem services such as carbon storage or water quality, is an important issue. Bad practice can have severe damaging consequences for ecological, hydrological and soil processes.

Therefore, careful planning needs to be undertaken before any prescribed burn, a full risk assessment should be carried out as per normal procedures and this must now also consider the reduced availability of NIFRS to respond to any escaped fires. And it is even more important than normal that sufficient personnel and resources are available to manage the fire. You must also inform NIFRS (Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service) in advance on 028 9266 4221 to prevent unnecessary mobilisations of fire appliances.


NIFRS will want to know:

What time you will start burning?

  • The exact location of your fire.
  • A contact number for you, or whoever will be responsible for the burning.
  • When the fire has been extinguished.

Basic fire safety advice and procedures:

  • Choose a site which is clear and free from buildings, trees, overhead cables etc.
  • Prepare the land correctly by cutting/flailing fire breaks into the boundary of the area you wish to burn. Fire breaks must always be downwind in order to contain the fire.
  • Keep fires as small as possible to prevent them getting out of control.
  • Make sure you have an emergency escape route available at all times.
  • Do not use fuel to start fires; explosive vapour given off by the fuel can cause serious injuries.
  • Never leave a fire unattended; ensure you have sufficient people and extinguishing media available to control the fire.
  • Always ensure a fire is completely out before you leave it.

Weather conditions:

  • Previous – several days of dry conditions will mean greater risk of fire spread.
  • Current – Check weather forecast for wind strength and direction.
  • 20/20 Rule – Never burn in winds above 20 mph or in temperatures above 20ºC.
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