Arsonists have caused damage to rare peatland across the North West.
Areas in both the Derry City Council and Strabane District Council areas have experienced significant damage.
More than 3 km² of blanket bog in Balix Hill and Owenreagh Hill (5 km north-west of Plumbridge), within the Sperrins Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has been severely damaged.
Also, Killycor Hill (2 km east of Claudy), 500 metres from the River Faughan Special Area of Conservation, has been badly burnt. These upland fires have put people’s lives, health, property and livelihoods at risk, as well as threatening livestock and local wildlife.
Christine Doherty, Derry and Strabane Councils’ Biodiversity Officer, explained: “Bogs take thousands of years to form and provide a habitat for important species of birds, rare insects and unusual plants.
“The western oceanic bog type found in Northern Ireland, is not found anywhere else in Europe.
“Only a small fragment remains, as the majority has been damaged or destroyed. Therefore, they are now considered among the rarest and most valuable habitats in Northern Ireland.”
Peat bogs, she says, are important carbon sinks and that peat burning releases greenhouse gases, which contributes to climate change.
“They provide us with clean water and act as a sponge to protect against flash flooding,” she added.