Dorset Heath devastated - huge fire destroys wildlife reserve

9th June 2011

On what will be remembered as a black day for wildlife, an estimated one third of one of the most important wildlife sites in England was devastated by fire yesterday afternoon.

Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Upton Heath nature reserve, recognised internationally for the extreme rarity of habitat and wildlife,
was engulfed by the biggest heath fire in decades just at the peak of the bird and reptile breeding season.

What wildlife was in danger?

Simon Cripps, Chief Executive of Dorset Wildlife Trust, said: “This is a disaster that will set wildlife back by 20 years or more on this important site. Since we took on management of the site 13 years ago, our wardens and volunteers have worked tirelessly to improve the habitat. It is doubly heartbreaking that Dartford warbler numbers had already been halved by the cold winter and there is now little chance of recovery for them for many years.”

Other birds affected are the rare nightjars, which have only recently arrived from Africa to breed on the heath. Thousands of reptiles, including all six British species of reptile, have been killed along with countless invertebrates, representing the destruction of the entire ecosystem.

Thousands of animals killed

Steve Davis, Volunteering Manager at Dorset Wildlife Trust, was an eyewitness. He said: “I was amazed by the height of the flames and the intensity and speed of the fire. I saw it jump several times of around 200m in a matter of seconds. The intensity of the heat will no doubt have a massive impact on the seed bank in the ground and this in turn will have a hugely negative effect on the ability of the site to recover.

Dorset Wildlife Trust is also concerned for the implications for the local community, who value the heath for its wildlife and enjoy using it for recreation. Steve added: “We extend our sympathies to the householders whose homes were threatened and to the many residents whose enjoyment of the heath will be adversely affected. We must also thank the Emergency Services and Urban Heaths Partnership who are still working on the site.”

Click here for photos - warning graphic images

Click here to volunteer to help after this destructive fire

Notes to Editor

For more information please contact Nicky Hoar at Dorset Wildlife Trust on 01305 264620.

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About Dorset Wildlife Trust

Working for a secure future for Dorset’s wildlife enriching the quality of life Dorset Wildlife Trust works to champion wildlife and natural places, to engage and inspire people and to promote sustainable living. Founded in 1961, DWT is now the largest voluntary nature conservation organisation in Dorset, with over 25,000 members and over 40 nature reserves. Most are open daily and there are visitor centres providing a wealth of wildlife information at Brooklands Farm, Lorton Meadows, Kingcombe Meadows and Brownsea Island Nature Reserves, The Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve and the Urban Wildlife Centre at Upton Heath Nature Reserve. DWT plays a key role in dealing with local environmental issues and leads the way in establishing the practices of sustainable development and engaging new audiences in conservation, particularly in the urban areas.

Read our Blog "Wildlife Matters"

The Wildlife Trusts (TWT)

There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK and the Isle of Man and Alderney. All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. We have more than 800,000 members including 150,000 members of our junior branch Wildlife Watch. Our vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas. We manage around 2,300 nature reserves and every year we advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife. We also run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife. Every year we work with thousands of schools and our nature reserves and visitor centres receive millions of visitors. Each Wildlife Trust is working within its local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas.

Upton Heath devastation - Dorset Widlife Trust

Upton Heath devastation - Dorset Widlife Trust

Fawn - Imogen Davenport  

Burnt fawn - Imogen Davenport

Upton Heath aftermath - Nigel Brooks

The Aftermath - Noel Bergin


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