Saturday, 28 April 2007

The mystery of arson

Who can understand why people set fire to beautiful natural landscapes like the Mourne Mountains, destroying rare plants, spoiling wonderful scenery, and threatening the lives of both livestock and walkers?

Over the last month hundreds of fires have broken out at beauty spots all over Northern Ireland, many started deliberately, and fire fighters have had to work in treacherous conditions on mountainsides, sometimes in the dark, to stop the fires spreading uncontrollably.

The latest fire on Thursday was at Black Mountain, a spectacular area overlooking Belfast and recently acquired by the National Trust.

I can't imagine what anyone gains from such pointless acts of destruction. The people who do this must somehow have been taught not to respect and cherish beautiful things but to resent and wreck them. And perhaps to resent other people who enjoy that beauty, for having a source of pleasure they don't have.

So having scarred these unique landscapes, what do the wreckers feel? Perhaps a sense of childish glee and triumph that they have shown everyone their hatred. I can only wonder how a person's upbringing can go so horribly wrong without anyone noticing or trying to restore a healthier attitude.

But back on the mountains, the worry is how to stop more fires breaking out. These are tracts of land so large and so sprawling they can never be effectively patrolled. If someone's determined to start a fire, they will. The only hope is some level headed friends grabbing the matches and hiding the petrol.

As someone who's spent many happy hours scrambling around the Mourne Mountains (just today I climbed Slieve Donard in brilliant sunshine), I feel sad there are people out there who just want to damage them and cover them with smouldering debris. How fragile is beauty, and how easily betrayed.

(See also Mountain Fever)

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