Coillte and the NPWS deploy drones to predict, detect and fight forest and wildfires

  • Drone technology will survey areas for fires and support firefighters on the ground
  • Programme to be rolled out in Dublin, Wicklow and Midlands regions that are at high risk of fire

Coillte, Ireland’s semi-state commercial forestry company and  the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who are responsible for state-owned National Parks and Nature Reserves, are partnering  to combat the spread of forest and wildfires using innovative drone technology.

This will be the second year the technology will be used to monitor designated ‘hot spots’ across regions of Dublin, Wicklow and the Midlands.

Utilising this state-of-the-art technology allows the drones to become firefighters’ eyes in the skies, helping to protect the environment and save lives.

 Josepha Madigan, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, TD, said: “As well as having severe localised impact on flora and fauna, setting fires during this time of a national public health emergency is particularly reckless as it places unnecessary additional  pressures on our emergency services whose services are critical to managing the COVID-19 pandemic. In this context, I am delighted that Coillte is joining us in this initiative to help combat the spread of forest and hill fires during this high-risk period.

“Wildfires are not a natural phenomenon in Ireland; the main challenge is to encourage members of the public, including landowners, farmers and recreational users of publicly accessible land, to act responsibly at all times, to be mindful of their own safety and the safety of others, to be mindful of the need to protect property, both publicly owned and privately owned, and to appreciate the value of our natural heritage, particularly in our National Parks, Nature Reserves and designated lands.”

Wesley Atkinson, Regional Manager with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, said: “We are delighted that Coillte are joining us in this initiative in combatting wild fires during this high-risk period. When these fires happen, there can be huge environmental damage to protected habitats and wildlife. The drones will help us to establish fire outbreaks and keep wildfires from spreading.”

Deborah Meghen, Director of Stewardship, Risk and Advocacy at Coillte, said: “We are delighted to be joining forces with the NPWS on this initiative to tackle the growing risk of forest fires. Last year we used this technology for forest fire protection, which resulted in a significant reduction in forest fires with just over 50 reported, down from 150 in 2018. This represents a very good year in terms of forest damage with only 25 hectares affected, compared with over 600 hectares damaged in 2018.”

The drones are equipped with cameras that peer through smoke, as well as sensors for wind direction and other weather variables that affect how fires spread. They can capture continuous footage of areas deemed as high risk and spot small fires that otherwise could not have been detected until they had become much larger and harder to contain.

Ms Meghan added: “It is important to note, however, that damage from forest fires and wildfires would be far more significant every year were it not for the efforts of Coillte and NPWS staff along with local fire services and the Irish Air Corps.

“Coillte manages the state’s investment in timber and these are the trees that build homes and businesses so their loss is also a significant economic impact.”

With the forest fire weather warning still in place, Coillte and NPWS are asking people to remain vigilant and report any fires they see to the local fire brigade.

Coillte recommend the following steps to prevent forest fires at this time:

  • DO NOT light fires and be careful of all activity involving fires
  • REPORT any suspicious activity you may observe
  • REPORT any forest fires you see to local fire brigade
  • DO NOT approach forest fires under any circumstance, they are extremely dangerous
  • KEEP access points and forest entrances clear for emergency services

Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin , D02 TD30. Tel: 01 631 3800 / LoCall: 1890 383 000

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