Spate of Cornwall gorse fires 'destructive and irresponsible'

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Cornwall Fire & Rescue Service says a gorse fire at a nature reserve near Wadebridge is thought to have been started deliberately.

Rosenannon Downs, which is owned by Cornwall Wildlife Trust has suffered the third major fire to devastate the heathland in the past three years.

Around 15 hectares of land which is equal to the size of 37 football fields was burned, along with 250 metres of fencing used to keep the site stockproof. It also allowed local graziers to graze the site with native North Devon cattle.  

Fire brigades were called to tackle the blaze at Rosenannon Downs Nature Reserve on 7th March 2022, after receiving multiple reports by members of the local community.

Damaged gorse at Rosenannon Downs Credit: ITV News

There were also gorse fire incidents on the Lizard Peninsula this week - at Goonhilly on Wednesday 16th March and and Ruan Minor on Tuesday 15th March. Firefighters were at the scene at Goonhilly Downs about 4.15pm on Wednesday, and the blaze was out about half an hour later.

At Rosenannon, the two mile-long ‘fire front’ took firefighters just under two hours to bring under control.

Andy Collins, Mid-Cornwall Reserves Manager at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: “We are devastated by this latest fire. Uncontrolled burns like this one are destructive, irresponsible and put human life and wildlife in danger. Fortunately, after last year’s emergency appeal, we were able to re-cut firebreaks to slow and stop the spread of wildfires like this one – and they definitely did their job. Otherwise, we would’ve seen a lot more damage to this reserve.''

Controlled burning is used as a way of managing areas of heathland like Rosenannon Downs. It is used by conservation organisations, including Cornwall Wildlife Trust, to open up areas to wildflowers and help promote a variety of vegetation. However, the process must be strictly controlled, carried out at the right time of year and the areas to be burned should be small in proportion to the overall size of the site.

37 acres were burnt at Rosenannon Credit: Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Cornwall accounts for just over 2% of the world’s lowland heathland, making it an important habitat on a worldwide scale.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust says the heathlands at Rosenannon Downs Nature Reserve support a number of rare birds, mammals and insects, including meadow pipits and skylarks that would have been preparing to nest at this time of year.

Rosenannon Downs Credit: ITV News

Cornwall Fire & Rescue Service is currently mapping areas of Bodmin Moor by drone to help fire crews plan for gorse fire incidents. The project will give them a better understanding of terrain and access points. It now hopes to expand that work to gorse fire prone areas like Rosenannon.

Scott Brown, Cornwall Fire & Rescue: ''When we get these incidents at two o'clock in the morning, three o'clock in the morning it can be very difficult for crews to access these areas and it becomes very dangerous underfoot. If it becomes quite protracted, that can keep crews away from other areas where there's not necessarily the fire cover.''

Scott Brown, Cornwall Fire & Rescue Service Credit: ITV News

Scott says as well as the detrimental impact on wildlife habitats, these fires can pose a risk to human life and people's homes.

''Storage units, barns, property, animals, cattle - all those things are really at risk and that's when it makes it really difficult and challenging for crews to stop that spread. As we start getting towards property and people it becomes really, really dangerous.''

The fire at Rosenannon Downs could be seen as far away as Indian Queens and required six crews from Wadebridge, St Columb, Bodmin, Padstow, Delabole and St Dennis fire stations.