Fire started deliberately in Dorset could be 'devastating' for wildlife

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Firefighters working to tackle the flames Credit: Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service

Wildlife experts believe the impact of a deliberate heathland fire in Dorset could be "devastating" for animals and plants.

An area around the size of 23 football pitches was set alight at Canford Heath in Poole on Saturday evening (23 April).

The blaze is now out after firefighters spent hours getting it under control and damping down hotspots.

Brian Bleese, the chief executive of the Dorset Wildlife Trust, believes the impact of the fire could be felt for years to come.

He said: "When you get prolonged dry period, a lot of heathlands are like tinder and are very vulnerable to catching fire from a variety of sources - unfortunately most of those sources are human.

Dorset Wildlife Trust's chief executive says the aftermath of the fire could leave many animals vulnerable to predators

"They can be really devastating for wildlife. It destroys habitats, it destroys plants, and it has a big effect on animals, especially the heathland specialists like our reptiles - sand lizards, smooth snakes."

"It also destroys their cover so they are easily predated by birds and other predators. They can burrow but when they emerge there is nothing there, just a wasteland."

Mr Bleese says the impact of the fire on the local wildlife will be hard to determine until the fire is completely out.

"If it really gets down and starts burning up the root systems it can be devastating for quite a long time.

"The main short-term issue is wildlife exposure and loss of nesting habitat this time of year."

Twenty homes were evacuated as the blaze came perilously close to homes but luckily no one was injured.

CCTV footage captured by Matthew Pond shows how close the fire was to homes, with the flames just metres from residents' fences.

Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service says investigations may never be able to identify the true cause although it believes the fire was caused with some "human intervention".

The service took to social media to thank everyone who had helped firefighters deal with the blaze.

The team said: "We really appreciate all the positive messages and will make sure these are passed on to those who dealt with the incident."

"We couldn’t deal with these incidents on our own and would like to thank all our partners for their support including Dorset Police, BCP Council, Wessex Water, South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, Environment Agency - Wessex and everyone else who assisted us yesterday, including all the residents who provided refreshments to crews."

Visitors to heathland are being warned to be extra vigilant by not using naked flames, smoking or using disposable barbecues in order to limit the risk of fires.