Wildfire at Bovey Heathfield

A wildfire at our Bovey Heathfield nature reserve was quickly controlled - but things could have been much worse.
Charred remains of area of gorse at nature reserve

A fire at Bovey Heathfield is the second to occur at the site in the past year

A wildfire which could have ‘devastated local wildlife’ is just the latest in a series of problems that has been affecting our 58 nature reserves.

The fire was discovered yesterday (daytime Weds 7 April) at Devon Wildlife Trust’s Bovey Heathfield nature reserve, in South Devon. Fire crews from Bovey Tracey were able to control the blaze. Nonetheless, half an acre of the heathland site was damaged leaving behind charred heather, gorse and grass.

Speaking for Devon Wildlife Trust, Steve Hussey said:

“We’re still trying to piece together the details of this fire, but what we do know is that this was a very close call and things could have quickly become much more serious. We want to thank local crews from the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service who responded when the alarm was raised. Without their swift action a much larger part of this precious heathland could have been lost”.

This is the second fire to have broken out at the popular nature reserve in the past year. Steve Hussey said:

“A very dry spring means that our countryside is extremely vulnerable to fire. All it needs is a discarded cigarette, a BBQ or spark from a firepit and a large wildfire could ignite. The results of this can be devastating, not only for local communities, but for wildlife too. At this time of year, birds are nesting, reptiles and insects are emerging and wildflowers are beginning to bloom – the timing really couldn’t be any worse.”

The fire at Bovey Heathfield nature reserve is just the latest of a growing set of recent problems that Devon Wildlife Trust has identified across its network of wildlife havens. As lockdown restrictions have eased the charity has seen growing numbers of people visiting its 58 nature reserves which contain some of the county’s most precious wildlife. However, staff at the conservation organisation are concerned by a rise in anti-social and inappropriate behaviour which they say is putting nature at risk.

Our reserves are not playgrounds or parks
Penny Mason
Devon Wildlife Trust
Stonechat resting on cows parsley

Stonechats are just one of the heathland species which can be affected by wildfires. Photo: Neil Bygrave

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Steve Hussey said:

“At another of our nature reserves, Meeth Quarry, near Hatherleigh, North Devon, a colleague called me yesterday to relay a long list of problems he’d had to deal with. These included people having BBQs and fires, and two instances where gates were left open so that our Exmoor ponies had escaped. He’d discovered dogs off the lead and in areas that we ask owners not to exercise them in because of nesting birds. He’d also discovered people riding motorbikes on the reserve’s paths, found visitors using the nature reserve as a place to play ball games and even use radio-remote controlled model cars.

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Penny Mason said:

“We work very hard to keep our nature reserves as both havens for wildlife and special places where people can enjoy and connect with nature. We recognise that people are increasingly looking for green spaces for leisure activity on their doorsteps, but our reserves are not playgrounds or parks and need to be enjoyed a little differently. We ask that visitors show respect for the quiet and tranquil nature of these sites, and consideration for wildlife and for other users when visiting them. This means leaving gates as you find them, taking litter home, not lighting fires or BBQs, keeping dogs on leads and clearing up after their pets. Basically, we ask that visitors respect site signage and information and adhere to the Countryside Code.”

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