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Wildlife Trust Warns Wildfire Risk ‘Very High’ on Surrey’s Precious Tinderbox Heathlands

Published on: 10 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 10 Aug, 2020

Belted Galloway cattle grazing close to the wildfire at Chobham Common.

Surrey Wildlife Trust warns of very high and continuing risk of wildfire on Surrey’s precious heathlands.

The wildfire which took hold on Friday August 7 on Sunningdale golf course and was spread by strong winds to Chobham Common, has so far destroyed 30 hectares (74 acres) of rare and precious lowland heathland and wildlife habitat on the common alone. The wildfire is still being controlled by fire crews as hot spots reignite.

Fire crews continue to try and bring the fire under-control watching for hot spots that might re-ignite.

Chobham Common, the largest National Nature Reserve in the south-east, is a fragment of previously extensive lowland heathland which is rarer than tropical rainforest and is home to specialist reptiles, protected ground-nesting birds and thousands of species of insects which are in decline elsewhere.

When the wildfire jumped the Sunningdale to Chobham Road and reached the common, the stalwart work of Surrey Fire and Rescue combined with the Trust’s firebreaks, where vegetation is closely managed, helped to contain the blaze and protect the remaining 500 hectares of the common.

The fire has has so far destroyed 30 hectares (74 acres) of rare and precious lowland heathland.

James Adler, director of biodiversity at the Trust, said: “All Surrey heathland sites are highly vulnerable to heath fires at present. We are very concerned that climate change is leading to an increase in frequency of wildfires, which present a danger to human life and people’s homes as well as wildlife.

“We hope to work closely with government and other landowners to develop a climate-focused programme, where the risk of wildfire is reduced through landscape management.

“Wildfires are unpredictable, dangerous and particularly damaging to precious habitat, which has taken years of management to get into optimum condition for reptiles, such as adders and sand lizards, as well as woodlarks and Dartford warblers and thousands of invertebrate species.

“When these habitats are destroyed by wildfire, it may take many years before the area becomes suitable for them again. If a fire is too big it can wipe out whole populations of species and, due to fragmentation of habitats, it may not be possible for recolonisation.”

Normally, at this time of year Chobham Common is a sea of pink and purple heather, buzzing with a kaleidoscope of 29 species of butterfly, including the rare silver-studded blue. There are 22 types of dragonfly which hover and dart above the heathland pools. One hundred bird species have been recorded here, including the ground-nesting nightjar which migrates 4,000 miles annually from sub-Saharan Africa to breed on Chobham Common.

There are 300 species of wildflowers, including the sweeping of purple-flowering heather, several species of native orchids and the wetlands’ insect-eating sundews and rare marsh gentians. Chobham Common is also one of the best British sites for insects, spiders, ladybirds, bees and wasps. There are also 25 species of mammal here.

People should continue to follow fire service advice and ideally stay south of the M3. Monument and Roundabout car parks are both still closed, but Longcross car park is open.

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Responses to Wildlife Trust Warns Wildfire Risk ‘Very High’ on Surrey’s Precious Tinderbox Heathlands

  1. Paul Robinson Reply

    August 11, 2020 at 10:41 am

    I saw a post on the Guildford Past & Present FaceBook site last night complaining about people releasing sky lanterns last night.

    At the weekend, I found an empty wine bottle just thrown in the dry long grass at Riverside Park just waiting for the sun to use as a magnifying glass. A couple of weeks ago a group of lads decided to camp out by Riverside Lake and built a campfire adjacent to the long grass.

    You really have to worry about some people intelligence.

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