Environment pays high price for scorched earth

Aftermath of the fire on St Annes Nature Reserve
Aftermath of the fire on St Annes Nature Reserve
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Over the next few weeks staff at a Fylde nature reserve will be investigating the full extent of damaged caused by a grassland fire at the weekend.

Lizards, birds, toads and newts are among the occupants at Fylde Nature Reserve in St Annes which was devastated in the blaze.

Aftermath of fire damage from a barbecue on Lytham Green

Aftermath of fire damage from a barbecue on Lytham Green

However, so far, staff believe no wildlife was harmed in Saturday’s fire, although it will take grasslands and duenes months to recover.

Meanwhile, a temporary ban on barbecues on grassland has swiftly followed two fires which left Fylde landmarks devastated.

Just hours after substantial damage was caused to Lytham Green by a blaze thought to be have been started by an overturned barbecue, around a quarter of the Fylde Nature Reserve area in St Annes was ravaged by fire, causing the main road between Blackpool and St Annes to be closed for several hours.

Fylde Council has repeatedly issued strong advice to visitors to grassed areas not to light barbecues but has now introduced temporary signage and extra patrols by park rangers in a bid to eradicate risk in the current heatwave conditions.

A council statement said: “Over the next summer months, we will establish a more comprehensive understanding of the impact a total ban would have, as opposed to designated areas with the appropriate facilities to support barbecues.

“In the meantime, the new ranger service and employees on parks and gardens have been asked to monitor activity and provide advice on the safe use of barbecues as well as disposal of any waste.

“Because of the current heatwave conditions, barbecues are being prohibited on high risk grassed areas (including Lytham Green) with temporary signage being introduced as well as additional patrols.”

Saturday lunchtime’s blaze left a substantial black ‘scar’ on Lytham Green, while five fire crews were later called to the dunes on Clifton Drive North, which was closed to traffic for several hours as smoke billowed up from the scene.

The cause of the nature reserve fire is still under investigation but initial indications appear to be that any damage was confined to burned grass and no wildlife was harmed.

A Fylde Council spokesman said: “The fire has burned a significant area of vegetation but we have no evidence to date that any wildlife was harmed.”

Lisa Foden, Fylde’s parks and coastal services manager, added: “We estimate that approximately 25 per cent of the nature reserve habitat was lost in the fire.

“Staff from Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Fylde Council’s parks and coast service are surveying, photographing and mapping the full extent of the damage to provide us with a clearer picture on how the flora and fauna has been affected.

“We will also work with the emergency services to gather any intelligence on what caused the fire - we do not know the source or cause at present.

“We will need to wait for the vegetation to recover naturally and will be increasing uniformed site patrols and warning signage on the site to deter anti-social behaviour.”

Alan Wright, communications manager for the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, which helps Fylde Council manage the reserve, said: “The fire service did a brilliant job in containing damage.

“They have probably saved a lot of our local wildlife. We are very grateful. However it is devastating because this is an important area for some rare plants and wildlife.

“We will also have concerns about plants like marram grass, they bind the dunes together providing a protective barrier from the sea. They protect the wildlife and local homes. We have done some amazing work on the dunes, with Fylde Council. This may take years to return it back.”

The New Thursby nursing home, close to the scene of the nature reserve blaze, was readied for evacuation of its 35 residents when the fire was at its height.

Jeremy Heney, managing director of its parent organisation Century Health Care said: “Our emergency procedures, including closing all the windows, were put into effect but it never came close to the home having to be actually evacuated.

“The fire never got closer than 500 yards away on the other side of the road and Clifton Drive acts as a natural fire break anyway.

“The fire brigade and the other emergency services did a brilliant job,” he added.

A spokesman for Lancashire Fire and Rescue said: “Evidence has been gathered, as is the case with all such incidents, and the cause will be looked into.

“But with current major commitments, notably the Winter Hill fire, the investigation is likely to take longer than might usually be the case.”