As the UK’s biggest woodland charity continues its decades-long recovery of a fire ravaged site it issues a summer plea: don’t light fires.

Three years on from the biggest ever fire on its sites – a devastating blaze which destroyed swathes of precious moorland and left wildlife reeling in its wake - the Woodland Trust is urging people not to light fires.

The charity’s sites have already been blighted by nine fires this year. With the summer holidays beginning for many and the potential for prolonged periods of dry spells, the risk of wild fires significantly increases. BBQs and small fires on moorland and woodland can easily get out of control and rip through the countryside fast, damaging everything in their path.

In the summer of 2018, a toxic mix of a fire coupled with droughts, swept through the moorland at Smithills near Bolton, creating a “moonscape landscape” and wiping out whole ecosystems, including displacing rare birds such as the curlew, damaging a third of the 1,700 hectare site and killing around 2,000 trees.  It took 42 days for the fire service and the Woodland Trust to bring it under control. The recovery is ongoing and costs are rising above £1 million.

This year, there was a big fire on its site near Cave Hill Country Park in Northern Ireland – small by wild fire standards but nevertheless damaging a large area of the site. In Castle Hills in Northumberland and Martinshaw in Leicestershire there have been a series of fires, as there has at Merry Hill on the outskirts of London.

These kind of fires cause untold damage to habitats, wiping out wildlife and forcing nesting birds to flea.  Some of which takes decades to recover.

With these risks in mind, the Trust has launched a national “love your woods” campaign which is looking to encourage people to visit its woodland leaving no trace and therefore aiding the protection of the Trust’s special sites.

Al Crosby, the Woodland Trust’s regional director for northern England said:

“Our sites are a wonderful place to visit with so much diversity – from mountainous Ben Shieldaig in Scotland and the moorlands of Smithills, to community woods and lowland forests towards the south of England, and everything in between. We of course want people to enjoy them but also to take care of them, which is why we have launched this campaign. It's all about recognising what’s special about these places, and how visitors can show their love for them and help us to keep them that way.

“Our key message is to people - help us to protect the precious woods and wildlife near you – please don’t light fires, it poses untold risk to people and wildlife. Even if people think they are in control one minute it can soon change and the affects can be absolutely catastrophic.”

More on the campaign is here: woodlandtrust.org.uk/loveyourwoods

Meanwhile, the recovery at its Bolton site continues on its long, arduous journey.  The charity is using a process called rewetting. This involves strategically placing wooden posts woven with fabric which are designed to soak up water and therefore keeping the moorland in a more moist condition, ideal for a healthy moor and the growth of sphagnum moss. The charity has also built fire breaks made of willow.

In the aftermath of the fire a lot of wildlife was displaced but there is hope as birds such as curlew, snipe and golden plover have started making a return.  Volunteers are still out and about at the site doing daily checks for suspicious behaviour and checking for fires.

The charity estimates that it will take 10 to 15 years before the landscape will get back to how it was before the fire. It will continue to restore the site and plant many more trees.

Notes to editors

For more details on this release, contact Andy Bond in the Woodland Trust press office on 07725 480434 or andybond@woodlandtrust.org.uk

About the Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.

The Trust has three key aims: 

  1. protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable
  2. restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life
  3. plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife.

Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering approximately 29,000 hectares. Access to its woods is free so everyone can benefit from woods and trees.

About Smithills

The Woodland Trust bought the site in 2017. Made up of open countryside, streams and woodland, it’s the largest site the charity owns in England and it was in need of restoration and positive environmental management. Home to over 1000 species, including curlews, palmate newts and wild garlic, the project's goal was to restore the site by planting trees and weaving delicate environments together to boost nature. A huge part of its aim was to engage the community too at this urban site close Bolton.

In November the very first tree of the Northern Forest was planted to signal the start of an ambitious project to plant millions of trees from Liverpool to Hull. A further 28,500 trees were planted in March.

The ongoing recovery is aided by £1.9 million of HLF (The National Lottery Heritage Fund) funding which the charity received partly to help purchase the final third of the 1,700 acre site. This funding figure is only supplied through a match-funding agreement, which means the Trust needs to fundraise a further £1.9million throughout the 5 year project to match the funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

For more details on Smithills go to: http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/support-us/support-an-appeal/smithills/