Friday, 24 June 2011

Upton Heath Fire

Earlier this month a large fire decimated c. 60+ Ha of the DWT heathland nature reserve at Upton. This fire was started deliberately and in drought conditions. It was started on land that is outside of the nature reserve, and due to the drought conditions, firstly burnt through the bog system. This limited Fire Brigade access to the fire edge and by the time the burning front reached the fire-break system its momentum was too large to stop. This fire will have vastly affected all heathland wildlife; mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants within their breeding system. For reptiles it could take c.20-40 years for both habitat and species population recovery. It is estimated that 1000’s of animals will have been directly killed by heat, smoke, loss of habitat and increased predation. This will have affected all 6 of our native species including sand lizard and smooth snake.

Dorset’s urban heaths are constantly under pressure, with increasing visitor pressure and associated increasing new housing and population pressure. All nature organisations try and reduce the legacy of these and the ongoing impacts by working with council planners to reduce direct and indirect public pressure, have increased site staff and volunteer wardening, and via the partnership of Urban Heaths Project improved Fire Brigade access routes to the sites, coordinated and joint Fire Brigade, Police and community involvement, not least via a large educational remit to schools and community groups, to reduce arson and ensure that reduced impacts on the heaths will occur. As ever, the prompt and professional response by both the Fire Brigade and Police limited the impact of this catastrophic event and also reduced the
chance of human lives being lost.

It is very encouraging to note the prompt response by all the organisations staff and volunteers ie. DWT, ARC, DRAG, UHP, DCC, NT and the local community to DWT’s request to help with the reptile rescue. Superb co-ordination and organisation by Steve and Andy ensured that there was often 90 staff and volunteers on site undertaking rescues. This has been ongoing for c.10 days and we estimate c.100+ reptiles, from all six species, have been rescued and relocated in the closest viable remaining habitats. Through such prompt action we know that, with the recovery of the habitats through time, both viable and robust reptile populations will also recover. This is only possible by the efforts of all the groups and volunteers who have helped with this project.

Nick Moulton

Reptile Conservation Officer

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