Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) is starting a clean-up operation following a fire which has destroyed 3 hectares of heathland on its Upton Heath nature reserve, near Corfe Mullen.
The fire started at 3pm on Sunday afternoon (5th August) and was attended to by 30 fire crews (roughly 100 firefighters) from Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service. The cause of the fire is unknown, but it is thought to have been either started deliberately or by careless behaviour, resulting in a fire which spread very quickly in the dry conditions.
Upton Heath, which is part of the Great Heath Living Landscape Project, is one of the largest areas of heathland remaining in Dorset and is recognised internationally for the rarity of habitat and wildlife that lives there, such as the nightjar and the Dartford warbler. It is home to all 6 native reptile species including the nationally rare smooth snake and sand lizard. A week before this fire, two nightjar chicks were ringed in the area where the fire occurred – unable to fly, it is almost certain they would not have survived.
In 2011 a large fire destroyed just under 100 hectares of heathland on Upton Heath. Work to restore the area has been ongoing since, so a fire such as this one is a massive step back for wildlife and conservationists.
DWT’s East Dorset Living Landscapes and Living Seas Manager, Nicki Brunt said, “We are so saddened to see this wonderful nature reserve become a victim to fire once again. The 3 hectares affected were at the corner of the reserve, near the A35, and it’s with thanks to the fire crews who brought it under control quickly that there wasn’t a worse outcome for wildlife and the people living close-by. We will be spending the coming days and weeks making sure the fire doesn’t re-light, assessing the damage to wildlife, and starting the recovery process. We know from experience that it will take years, if not decades for the habitat to recover.”
Whether this fire was started deliberately or by negligence, DWT desperately urges the public to be mindful of the potential devastation that can be caused by a small spark, for example from a discarded cigarette, on dry heathland at this time of year.
If you see any suspicious behaviour which could lead to a fire on one of our nature reserves, or if you spot a fire, please call 999 immediately.
If you’d like to become part of our Heath Watch team to help be the eyes and ears of Upton Heath and help us look after it all year round, visit www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/heathwatch.
Find out more about Upton Heath here: www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/Upton_Heath_Nature_Reserve