The Woodland Trust, whose land includes Haldon Forest, is urging visitors to its woods to bin the barbecues this summer and avoid the catastrophic impact of fires on wildlife and nature.
The UK’s largest woodland conservation charity is counting the cost of fires on its sites over the past five years, which have caused millions of pounds worth of damage and had a devastating effect on rare woodland and wildlife.
Many summer wildfires are started accidentally by lighting fires or disposable barbecues. But one stray spark or an abandoned pile of dying embers can have horrendous consequences for the countryside, decimating wildlife and causing long-lasting damage.
The UK is one of Europe’s least-wooded countries and trees and woodlands are essential in the fight against climate change and boosting biodiversity. Any loss or damage is detrimental for the planet.
The Woodland Trust owns and cares for more than 1,000 woodland sites across the UK – all free to visit at any time.
Trust head of health and safety Nick Hall said it was imperative those sites are fire free.
“Fires have huge implications – both in terms of the financial burden and the effect on our woods and wildlife, which can be catastrophic,” he said.
Hall has witnessed the damage done by more than 30 fires across their sites since 2018 – the worst of which caused well in excess of £1m worth of damage.
A toxic mix of hot weather and droughts in summer 2018 contributed to fire sweeping through the moorland at Smithills near Bolton, wiping out whole ecosystems, damaging a third of the 1,700-hectare site and killing around 2,000 trees. It took 42 days for the fire service and the Woodland Trust to bring it under control.
Nick added: “The fire at Smithills was devastating for ground nesting birds and the impact is felt for years. Climate change also means hotter, dryer periods are inevitable and the risk of starting a deadly fire by taking a barbecue out into the woods or onto the moors is magnified.
“One spark really can spell disaster: you’re gambling with the lives of people and animals by taking one on your summer outings.”
With the summer holidays beginning and the potential for prolonged periods of dry spells, the risk of wildfires significantly increases and they can easily get out of control.
The “be cool, stay fire-free” message is part of the Woodland Trust’s Love Your Woods campaign which is encouraging people to enjoy their visit but help protect woods and nature for the future.
Peter Coles, site manager for Surrey and west Kent, urged people to “leave the barbecues at home”.
He added: “Our woodlands are precious and protected places, home to many different tree, plant and wildlife species. Everything we do is to keep the woodlands and its inhabitants safe.
“We know it can be tempting to bring a disposable barbecue on a trip into the woods or light a small fire to cook on. However, fires of any kind are not permitted in our woodland. Fires create huge amounts of damage and destruction to sensitive habitats.
“Fire risks are increasing as we have longer periods of very little rain. Even if a fire doesn’t get out of control, it still causes lots of damage to the surrounding area. It can disturb wildlife and destroy sensitive habitats, including negatively impacting the PH of the soil.
“There are many places across the UK that allow campfires and barbecues. Please use these areas when lighting fires and, when you come to visit one of our woods, bring a picnic instead.”
Visitors can play their part in protecting woodland by following some simple advice, including staying fire-free, staying on paths, taking dog mess and litter home and protecting wildlife by keeping dogs close.