Published Wednesday, 12 June 2013
The fire affected the lizard population in the area. (© Belfast Hills Partnership)
A gorse fire tore through the hill at limestone quarry last Wednesday which is home to the only land reptile native to Ireland.
Four appliances attended but were unable to access the area and crews stayed on site until the fire burnt itself out.
The Belfast Hills Partnership had been monitoring the species in the area for several months and said many were lost in the blaze.
Small and brownish-grey in appearance, the viviparous lizard gives birth to live young which have hatched from eggs inside the female.
Mountainous, coastal and bog land areas tend to report the highest numbers of sightings.
Belfast Hills Partnership manager Jim Bradley expressed dismay at the damage that was caused.
"It was only this year we began to monitor this site for lizards that we discovered on the southern side of Cave Hill," he explained.
"We have definitive proof of what had been there, but we can now compare figures to see the impact, which is quite substantial, given the area covered, severity and extent of the blaze.
"Heat is very important for lizards and given that the old quarry is south-facing and a sun trap, it is also a good place for butterflies and nesting birds. Hopefully we will see the unburned area of this site recolonised by the lizards."
On Friday the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service made an appeal to those setting deliberate fires after they received 262 emergency calls resulting in crews responding to 84 gorse fires in four days.
The charity appealed for people to report any fires they see in the hills this summer.
"This won't put us off future monitoring and finding out the wildlife value of the hills," Mr Bradley added.
"Therefore we repeat our message for people to be vigilant - ten or 15 minutes can make all the difference between a small burn and a large fire in an upland area."
© UTV News