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Fears for wildlife after nature reserve fire.

A wildlife trust was yesterday assessing damage caused by a fire which destroyed 25 acres of one of its most important nature reserves.

The blaze at the Durham Wildlife Trust reserve at Hedleyhope Fell near Tow Law, comes a week after a warning was given to countryside users after 125 acres of heather moorland near Alnwick in Northumberland were also destroyed in a blaze. The Hedleyhope fire severely damaged one of the most important areas for the Green hairstreak butterfly, a Durham Biodiversity Action Plan species that was thriving at the site.

It is feared that a significant proportion of the population has been lost.

The area is also important for nesting birds, such as short-eared owl, curlew, lapwing and skylark.

The full extent of the impact on these species is not yet clear, but because of the time of year, it is expected to be significant.

Craig Best, the Trust's Hedleyhope Fell wildlife and community officer, said that the fire had destroyed 25 acres of heather and bilberry, important habitat for a number of butterfly species and nesting birds.

The damage is a significant blow to the Trust, whose management plans will be dramatically affected by the incident. Craig said: "It will take a couple of years for the area to recover, and a significant amount of work will be required to ensure that invasive species like bracken don't establish.

"The fire is still smouldering in some places and is being monitored.

"The cause is not yet known, but it appears to have started beside a footpath."

Last week, Brian Hesler, Northumberland Fire and Rescue chief officer, warned that every year, fire destroys thousands of acres of countryside and wildlife habitats, mostly due to carelessness.

There is concern that increased access to the countryside, combined with warmer, longer summers and milder winters, is increasing the risk of more severe fires in rural areas.

Tony Henderson
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 29, 2006
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