Wildfires caused by barbecues harming wildlife, says National Trust

Dry conditions following low spring rainfall have contributed to a rise in fires

The National Trust is urging people not to take a barbecue or light a campfire when they visit the coast and countryside following a spate of wildfires that have damaged flora and fauna.

Despite recent rainfall, a record-breaking spring of sunshine has left many landscapes dry and created the perfect conditions for fires to ignite and quickly spread.

Since the start of April, several large blazes have broken out on the trust’s land, including one at Froward Point on the Devon coast that was started by a barbecue and required six fire engines and a police helicopter to extinguish. Woodland and heathland were damaged.

Around 2 sq km of land was damaged at Marsden Moor in West Yorkshire, an important site for ground-nesting birds such as the curlew, short-eared owl and merlin.

In May, a heathland fire damaged Thurstaston Common on the Wirral peninsula, in north-west England, which is home to lizards, tiger beetles and migrant birds. Prime heathland habitat was lost.

Station Manager Lauren Woodward gives a tour of the devastation at Thurstaston Common where she is Incident Commander today. Please listen to the messages from firefighters at the scene or we will have no beauty spots left to visit. @WirralCouncil @NaturalEngland pic.twitter.com/l3ssIdp30g

— Mersey Fire (@MerseyFire) May 29, 2020

At Studland Beach in Dorset, fire crews extinguished 30 unattended barbecues in a single night.

There has also been an increase in litter at many sites, which the trust says not only blights the landscape but poses a threat to wildlife and can fuel wildfires. At Dovedale, in the Peak District, volunteers filled 100 bin bags in one weekend.

Ben McCarthy, the head of nature conservation at the National Trust, said: “We know that people have missed the outdoors and open spaces these past few months – and we’re really pleased to be welcoming them back.

“But we’re urging people not to bring barbecues to the countryside or the coast. They can lead to real problems, particularly after such little rain in April and May.

“Many areas of land are still very dry and all it takes is a single spark from a barbecue or a dropped cigarette to cause a serious fire.

“Fires like these undermine our work to care for nature and respond to the climate emergency, which are priorities for the National Trust.”

Incidences of UK wildfires are increasing in number and severity, in part due to changing weather patterns. Last year was particularly worrying for fire services and conservation charities with the unseasonably warm February and Easter contributing to blazes across the country.

Among these was a devastating fire on Marsden Moor in April 2019 that destroyed 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of wildlife habitat, including that of the mountain hare, and burned for four days.


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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