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Winter Hill fire will have devastating effects on Smithills’ nature

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.

A helicopter prepares to dump water on the affected land. Tubes in the foreground show where trees had been newly planted (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)
A helicopter prepares to dump water on the affected land. Tubes in the foreground show where trees had been newly planted (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)
Emergency services have tackled the blaze for several days (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)
Emergency services have tackled the blaze for several days (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)
The fire has burned through more than 1000 acres (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)
The fire has burned through more than 1000 acres (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)

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.

Working together

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.

Spotters have been alerting fire crews as the fire smoulders and reignites (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)
Spotters have been alerting fire crews as the fire smoulders and reignites (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)
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Helicopters continue attempts to douse the flames  on 4 July (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)
Helicopters continue attempts to douse the flames on 4 July (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)
An exhausted fireman takes a quick rest before heading back out (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)
An exhausted fireman takes a quick rest before heading back out (Photo: Joel Goodman Photography)

What now?

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.

Read more about our plans for Smithills

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