Upton Heath Devastated By Fire
Dorset Heath Devastated
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.
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.
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.”
The Church of England - Diocese of Salisbury added this statement:
200 firefighters tackled the largest fire for 35 years on Upton Heath, Poole, last night. Homes were evacuated and crews worked hard to bring the fire under control. Keith Skelton, Churchwarden of Christ Church Creekmoor, said: “There were a couple of roads up by Broadstone that were evacuated. There’s still a lingering smell of smoke this morning, permeating into houses and even garages.”
The Revd Jean de Garis, Rural Dean of Poole, organised emergency staff in a community centre in Lychett Minster. The parish of Corfe Mullen was also affected, with the flames merely 100 metres from some homes.
The Bishop of Sherborne, Dr Graham Kings, paid tribute today to the skills of the firefighters and the willingness of the public to step in and help. He said: “The Dorset heath fires near Poole were dangerous, and their threat to local wildlife and neighbouring homes was very real.”
He added: “We are thankful for the quick thinking and expertise of the fire crews, and are glad that no more damage was done. We now pray for courage and wisdom for those involved in the clean-up operation.”
The Revd Pamela Walker, Vicar of Corfe Mullen, said this morning: “We had some upset children because it was children’s club night. Our youth leaders were talking about it. We take it as part of life, I think, but obviously, everybody’s very upset about it. As far as I’m aware it’s under control, but we’re available if anyone needs us.”