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If you go down to the woods today – leave the BBQ behind, conservationists urge

Fire damage from the Smithills fire seen from above (Joel Goodman/WTML/PA)
Fire damage from the Smithills fire seen from above (Joel Goodman/WTML/PA)

The Woodland Trust is warning visitors to its sites to leave the barbecue behind to avoid the “catastrophic” impacts fires can have on wildlife and landscapes.

The charity, which owns and cares for more than 1,000 sites across the UK, warns that many summer wildfires are started accidentally by lighting campfires or disposable barbecues.

Just a stray spark or a pile of dying embers can have major and long-term consequences for the countryside if it takes light.

The Woodland Trust has seen more than 30 fires across its sites since 2018, the worst of which – on moorland at Smithills estate near Bolton – caused more than £1 million of damage, devasting a third of the 1,700-hectare site and killing around 2,000 trees as it burned for 42 days.

The fire at Smithills Estate in 2018 (Joel Goodman/WTML/PA)
The fire at Smithills Estate in 2018 (Joel Goodman/WTML/PA)

The charity said fires of any kind are not permitted at its sites, including campfires and disposable barbecues, and urged people to bring a picnic instead if they are visiting Woodland Trust woods and landscapes.

It warned the UK is one of Europe’s least-wooded countries, and with trees and woodlands essential carbon stores in the fight against climate change and for boosting wildlife, any loss or damage to these habitats is bad for the planet.

Its “be cool, stay fire-free” message is part of its “love your woods” campaign which is encouraging people to enjoy their visit while protecting woodlands and nature through simple steps such as staying on the path, taking dog mess and litter home and avoiding swimming, sleepovers and rock climbing.

Woodland Trust head of health and safety Nick Hall said: “Fires have huge implications – both in terms of the financial burden and the effect on our woods and wildlife, which can be catastrophic.

“Climate change also means hotter, dryer periods are inevitable and the risk of starting a deadly fire by taking a barbecue out into the woods or on to the moors is magnified.

“One spark really can spell disaster: you’re gambling with the lives of people and animals by taking one on your summer outings.”

Peter Coles, site manager for Surrey and west Kent, added: “We know it can be tempting to bring a disposable barbecue on a trip into the woods or light a small fire to cook on.

“However, fires of any kind are not permitted in our woodland. Fires create huge amounts of damage and destruction to sensitive habitats.”

And he warned that even if a fire does not get out of control, it can still cause damage to the surrounding area, disturbing wildlife, destroying sensitive habitats and affecting the acidity of soils.

“There are many places across the UK that allow campfires and barbecues. Please use these areas when lighting fires and, when you come to visit one of our woods, bring a picnic instead,” he said.