Leave your barbecues at home plea from National Trust after Dunwich fire

The fire damaged wildlife at Dunwich Heath. Picture: National Trust/Justin Minns

The fire damaged wildlife at Dunwich Heath. Picture: National Trust/Justin Minns - Credit: Archant

A heathland fire at Dunwich has prompted calls from the National Trust to leave barbecues at home as more visitors head to the countryside after the easing of some lockdown restrictions.

The trust is urging people not to bring a barbecue or light a campfire following a spate of wildfires during lockdown.

Despite recent rainfall, a record-breaking spring of sunshine has left many landscapes dry and created the perfect conditions for fires to ignite and quickly spread.

Since the start of April, several large blazes have broken out on the trust’s land, including one on the Suffolk coast thought to be started by a discarded cigarette on land that is home to ground-nesting birds.

Rangers at the trust have reported a rise in people bringing barbecues to the countryside, as extended spells of good weather have coincided with the easing of lockdown restrictions.

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Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation at the trust, said: “We’re urging people not to bring barbecues to the countryside or the coast. They can lead to real problems, particularly after such little rain in April and May. Many areas of land are still very dry and all it takes is a single spark from a barbecue or a dropped cigarette to cause a serious fire.”

At Dunwich Heath, emergency services were called to a fire during the evening of June 3. Around 20 tonnes of water was needed to put out the blaze, which started close to a bench overlooking the heathland, with the cause believed to be a discarded cigarette.

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Countryside manager for the Suffolk and Essex coast, Richard Gilbert, said: “Dunwich Heath is one of the finest examples of lowland Sandlings heath. It is predominantly made up of heather and gorse. These plants thrive on the extremely dry, free draining, sandy acidic soils. Because the soils are so dry and acidic, the vegetation doesn’t get broken down into the soil but tends to form a dry surface layer which is highly flammable.

“Heathland species such as Nightjars and Woodlarks nest on the ground and Dartford warblers nest low down in mature heather. Uncontrolled fires are highly destructive, not only wiping out nests but also killing reptiles such as slow-worms and adders.

“This is why, at Dunwich, one of the key requests to visitors is not to have open fires or barbecues as the risk is too great for a fire to start, which can very quickly destroy precious habitat and years of conservation management work.”

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