Lancashire Times
A Voice of the North
2:58 PM 24th July 2021

Charity Issues "No Fires Plea" Ahead Of Summer Hols

Three years on from the biggest ever fire on it sites – a devastating blaze which destroyed swathes of precious moorland left wildlife reeling in its wake - the Woodland Trust is urging people not to light fires.

The charity’s sites have already been blighted by nine fires this year and with the summer holidays beginning for many, and the potential for prolonged periods of dry spells, the risk of wild fires significantly increases. BBQs and small fires on moorland and woodland can easily get out of control and rip through the countryside fast, damaging everything in their path.

In the summer of 2018, a toxic mix of a fire, coupled with droughts, swept through the moorland at Smithills near Bolton, creating a “moonscape landscape” and wiping out whole ecosystems including displacing rare birds such as the curlew, damaging a third of the 1,700 hectare site, as well as killing around 2,000 trees. It took 42 days for the fire service and the Woodland Trust to bring it under control and the recovery is ongoing and costs are rising above £1 million.

This year, there was a big fire on its site near Cave Hill Country Park in Northern Ireland – small by wild fire standards but nevertheless damaging a large area of the site. In Castle Hills in Northumberland and Martinshaw in Leicestershire there have been a series of fires, as there has at Merry Hill on the outskirts of London.

These kind of fires cause untold damage to habitats, wiping out wildlife and forcing nesting birds to flea. Some of which takes decades to recover.

With these risks in mind, the Trust has launched a national “love your woods” campaign which is looking to encourage people to visit its woodland leaving no trace and therefore aid the protection of the Trust’s special sites.

Al Crosby, the Woodland Trust’s Regional Director for northern England said:

“Our sites are a wonderful place to visit with so much diversity – from mountainous Ben Shieldaig in Scotland and the moorlands of Smithills, to community woods and lowland forests towards the south of England, and everything in between. We of course want people to enjoy them but also to take care of them, which is why we have launched this campaign, all about recognising what’s special about these places, and how visitors can show their love for them and help us to keep them that way.

“Our key message is to people - help us to protect the precious woods and wildlife near you – please don’t light fires, it poses untold risk to people and wildlife. Even if people think they are in control one minute it can soon change and the affects can be absolutely catastrophic.”

More on the campaign is here:

Meanwhile, the recovery at its Bolton site continues on its long, arduous journey. The charity is using a process called re wetting which involves strategically placing wooden posts woven with fabric which are designed to soak up water and therefore keeping the moorland in a more moist condition, ideal for a healthy moor and the growth of sphagnum moss. The charity has also built fire breaks made of willow.

In the aftermath of the fire a lot of wildlife were displaced but there is hope as birds such as curlew, snipe and golden plover have started making a return. Volunteers are still out and about at the site doing daily checks for suspicious behaviour and checking for fires.

The charity estimates that it will take ten to 15 years before the landscape will get back to how it was before the fire. It will continue to restore the site and plant many more trees.