Wildfire warning as nature goes up in smoke

Wildfire warning as nature goes up in smoke

Janet Packham

Public urged to pack a picnic not a BBQ

Following a series of wildfires in the last ten days which have killed wild animals and destroyed large swathes of key nature reserves, The Wildlife Trusts are issuing a warning ahead of this weekend’s bank holiday.

A prolonged spell without rain means many heathlands, moorlands and grasslands are ‘tinder dry’, catching fire from the tiniest hot ember or spark. Recent wildfires in Surrey, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Dorset and Teeside have left land scorched and nature without a home.  

The Wildlife Trusts are asking visitors to the countryside to:

  • Pack a picnic, not a BBQ
  • Only light BBQs or campfires in authorised locations where there are fire extinguishers available
  • Extinguish cigarettes or matches and never throw them onto the ground
  • Take litter home because discarded bottles and cans can cause fires
  • If you spot smoke, or flames, make sure you’re safe and dial 999 immediately
Potteric Carr nature reserve fire damage

Potteric Carr nature reserve fire damage by Katie Baker

Rob Stoneman, Director of Landscape Recovery at The Wildlife Trusts said:

“We are in a climate and nature emergency. Our landscapes are under more pressure than ever before as temperatures rise and changing weather patterns mean they are more susceptible to wildfires. A BBQ or stray cigarette may set light to a much-loved beauty spot leading to destruction that takes decades to repair.”

“Too often a care-free day out can turn into tragedy when wildlife and precious habitat are devastated by wildfires caused by careless behaviour. We want everyone to enjoy our wonderful wild places – please join us in taking care of them and acting responsibly.”

In Surrey, a wildfire ripped through 740 acres of rare and precious lowland heathland, devastating wildlife. Ash Ranges is home to rare and endangered wildlife but became an inferno as strong winds whipped the flames decimating the important Site of Special Scientific Interest, leaving the ground smoking for three days.

Surrey Wildlife Trust's Ash Ranges after fire

Surrey Wildlife Trust's Ash Ranges after fire damage by Adam Boulton

James Herd, Director of Reserves Management at Surrey Wildlife Trust, which manages part of the site for wildlife, said:

“Once the fire service said it was safe, we went out to survey the damage, together with Amphibian and Reptile Conversation – it was devastating to see almost half of this rare heathland burnt to a crisp.

“Birds such as Dartford warblers and woodlarks were on nest with eggs or with chicks unable to fly, perished in the flames, along with the rarest of our reptiles, smooth snakes and sand lizards, and the heath tiger beetle.

“Ash Ranges is incredibly important in protecting endangered wildlife, it will likely take 20 years for it to return to its former glory. However, thanks to the quick response of the fire service things could have been even worse.” 

The cause of the fire isn’t yet known, but James supports the call to pack a picnic, not a BBQ.

James adds:
“One minute it's a nice family occasion where you're cooking a couple of burgers – but the next minute the heathland is on fire.”

Lapwings, curlews, snipe and sundew plants were feared to have been caught in fires at two Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserves recently – and vital equipment used to help nature restoration was also damaged. A blaze at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Potteric Carr nature reserve burnt just over 6 acres of reedbed with nesting ducks and chicks.

A huge wildfire at Dorset’s largest lowland heath, Canford Heath, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, killed ground nesting birds, lizards and smooth snakes. In Teeside a moorland fire affected birds and deer; in Northumberland fire crews had to use water from a nearby lough to put out a forest blaze.

The Wildlife Trusts welcome a recently commissioned Government review into the involvement of disposable barbecues in wildfires.