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National Trust warns it will take decades for Studland Heath to return to former glory after fire

24/05/2009 02:11:32
uk/UK_reserves/Studland_heath_burnt_nt

Studland Heath 1 year after part of it was badly burned. The heath i sreceovering very slowly. Credit NT

Mature heathland destroyed by fire and replaced by bracken

May 2009. One year on from a fire which devastated 2.5 hectares (six acres) of rare heathland at Studland in Dorset, National Trust wardens say it could take up to 30 years for rare wildlife to return to the affected area.

All six British native reptiles in one location
A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), National Nature Reserve and Special Area of Conservation, the 750 hectare area of heath is one of the few places in Britain where all six native reptiles are found as well as several rare species of birds and invertebrates.

Lizards, snakes and bird nests all suffered
It is feared as many as 500 reptiles, including the endangered sand lizard and smooth snake, were killed either in the fire or eaten by predators as they tried to escape. The bird population was also severely affected with many nests and broods of birds such as the linnet, shelduck and the rare Dartford warbler destroyed.

Mature heathland destroyed
Angela Peters, Purbeck Ecologist for the National Trust said: "The fire was particularly devastating because the heathland was very mature and a perfect habitat for both birds and reptiles. We anticipate it could take 30 years of re-growth before the heath begins to return to anything like its former status.

The fire in May 2008 on Studland Heath caused extensive damage, and the heath is recovering very slowly. Credit National Trust

The fire in May 2008 on Studland Heath caused extensive damage, and the heath is recovering very slowly. Credit National Trust

Bracken and gorse taking over
"Renewal will take such a long time because the fire occurred in the key growing and breeding season. As predicted, aggressive plants like bracken and gorse have done very well from the fire. The area will need to be very carefully managed in the future so that it doesn't smother the other species needed to attract the diversity of wildlife which previously lived there.

"It will be many years before we see any reptiles or birds returning to the site because of the lack of cover and variety of habitat necessary for snakes, lizards and birds to survive and repopulate."

Extra care needed
David Hodd, countryside manager at the National Trust's Purbeck Estate said: "With long range weather forecasts predicting a long, hot summer, we are delighted that people will be able to enjoy scenic areas like Studland and Godlingston Heath NNR, as there is still plenty of heathland for people to enjoy. But it is not only on warm days where we need extra vigilance. The ground is already very dry, despite the heavy rain at the weekend, and we are urging all visitors and motorists to take extra care when extinguishing cigarettes and pipes and to take the usual precautions if using barbecues in the area, and to take litter home to help us prevent any more fires over the forthcoming months."

Three recent fires
There have already been three large fires in recent weeks on Talbot Heath in Dorset, owned and managed by the Borough of Poole and Dorset County Council, destroying nine hectares (22 acres) of heathland. Fire has also recently devastated other National Trust owned and managed moorland at Marsden Moor near Huddersfield where there have been two fires in the last six weeks. A SSSI and Special Protection Area (SPA) bird site, a massive 81 hectares (200 acres) of the 2,023 hectares (5,000 acre) site were wiped out. Early reports again suggest that this fire was started by a cigarette despite their being a perceived ‘low risk' of fire due to low winds and cool days.

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