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3 Cornwall nature reserves attacked by arsonists

30/03/2009 22:33:53

Nansmellyn Marsh nature reserve bird hide arson attack, by Cliff Mitchell

5 separate attacks on 3 nature reserves

Over the past month wildlife in Cornwall has suffered a major blow with three arson attacks on different nature reserves. Cornwall Wildlife Trust have suffered three separate attacks on their nature reserves. The first, during February half term, was on the bird hide at their Nansmellyn Marsh Nature Reserve, which was deliberately set alight. Subsequently Tregonetha Downs Nature Reserve has been repeatedly burned and on 20th March, Rosenannon Downs nature reserve was attacked.

Repeated arson
Staff and volunteers at the Trust have put a lot of time and money over the years into providing a bird hide at Nansmellyn Marsh for the benefit of members and visitors alike. Over the past months a great deal of work has gone into improving the access to the hide and it was due to be revamped after a previous fire. No sooner had the access work been completed than children set alight to the hide and burnt it.

Sean O'Hea, Cornwall Wildlife Trust's Reserves Officer for Mid Cornwall says, "It's soul destroying. You are doing something beneficial for the community, and then someone comes along and makes all your efforts feel pointless. The good news is that the police have caught the culprits and are prosecuting, so I hope that teaches them a lesson."

Rosenannon Downs nature reserve arson attack. Photo by Sean O'Hea

Rosenannon Downs nature reserve arson attack. Photo by Sean O'Hea

Hen harrier sighting
Tregonetha Downs nature reserve has been deliberately attacked on at least three occasions in the past two weeks. This is particularly sad as a rare bird, the hen harrier, has been seen back here during winter after an absence of a number of years. It is thought to have returned because vegetation had recovered after pervious arson attacks. There are few places this bird can be seen in Cornwall, and they may have been driven away again. There has been a spate of gorse fires during the recent dry weather.

Sean O'Hea, Cornwall Wildlife Trust's Reserves Officer for Mid Cornwall says, "These fires are started by people who clearly don't understand the damage they are doing. Controlled burns are an important way of managing heathlands, but they must be done at the right time of year, and areas to be burned should be planned and small in proportion to the overall size of the site. The fires that have burned Tregonetha and Rosenannon Downs are nothing of the sort, a huge proportion of the overall land area has been burned at a time when birds are beginning to nest. We're working hard to provide the best possible habitats for wildlife on limited resources, so it's awful when some thoughtless person ruins it all by starting fires."

Wind breaks ineffective
On Rosenannon Downs and Tregonetha Downs nature reserves, together a Site of Special Scientific Interest, three days were spent in January cutting fire breaks to limit the damage of such fires, but in the strong winds they had only limited effect. This important downland has suffered from illegal fires in the past and the wildlife habitat is suffering badly. A neighbours new fence also got badly damaged in the fire.

It is not clear who is carrying out these attacks, but it is clear that they are causing a great deal of damage and wasting a huge amount of the fire brigade's time and resources. Cornwall Wildlife Trust will prosecute the culprits if they are found. If anyone has any information on who could be carrying out the attacks please could they let Crimestoppers know on 0800 555 111.

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