It’s a tough week at the Trust as we wait to see how the Winter Hill fire near Bolton has affected Smithills Estate, our largest site in England. A big portion of Smithills’ 1,700 acres has been burnt after the fire ripped through the site last week and continued to spread.
Devastating for nature
The fire’s impact on nature could be devastating. It has damaged heather moorland, upland grassland and woodland – home to an array of delicate and rare plants and animals such as the brown hare, lapwing and common lizard. The first trees planted as part of the Northern Forest project have also been burnt.
Home to over 1000 species, including curlews, palmate newts and wild garlic, whole ecosystems – from birds to caterpillars and insects - will have been wiped out. Breeding birds will have been affected such as the curlew, a red-list species. And it will have affected the whole invertebrate community too.
Since the fire broke out, we’ve been working closely with landowners and the emergency services to tackle it, including digging protective trenches, clearing paths and supporting communications. Teams of volunteers have helped fire watch by keeping an eye out for fire reigniting. Hundreds of firefighters have been tackling the blaze and helicopters have been drafted in to dump water on the flames. As it continues to blaze, we can only speculate as to the exact damage.
In the short term, we need to wait for the fire to die and assess the damage on the estate. The habitat will take years to recover and the scars will last a long time. This will clearly affect our plans for Smithills, but it still has a bright future.
We bought Smithills in 2017 with plans for restoration and positive environmental management of this special site, made up of open countryside, streams and woodland. That’s now going to take longer to achieve, but we’re still determined to make Smithills a greater place for people, wildlife and the environment.