Nature on fire in Cornwall

Photo credit St Columb Community Fire Station

A fire, started deliberately, has destroyed more than 20 hectares of Rosenannon Downs Nature Reserve in Cornwall

On Tuesday night, a fire broke out at Rosenannon Downs Nature Reserve, near Wadebridge in Cornwall. Despite efforts by firefighters from neighbouring towns, it was fanned by strong winds and went on to burn over several hours.

The fire destroyed around a quarter of the reserve, which provides a home for nesting birds, mammals, reptiles,  insects and rare plant species. It appears to have been started in multiple locations in what is thought to have been a deliberate act of arson.

Rosenannon Downs is a heathland site of special scientific interest. Birds which nest and breed there include common snipe, curlews, meadow pipits and stonechats. Skylarks, hen harriers and Montagu’s harriers have also been recorded there, as well as rare dormice.

Callum Deveney, Head of Nature Reserves at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: “These fires are started by people who clearly don’t understand the damage they are doing. Controlled burns are an important way of managing heathlands, but they must be done at the right time of year, and areas to be burned should be planned and small in proportion to the overall size of the site.

Tumulus on Rosenannon Down Photo by David Hawgood

“The fires that have burned at Rosenannon Downs are nothing of the sort. A huge proportion of the overall land area has been burned and an expensive fence has been destroyed. We’re working hard to provide the best possible habitats for wildlife on limited resources, and then some thoughtless actions ruin it all.”

As the Wildlife Trust explains, a site like Rosenannon Downs needs a range of ages of vegetation to be in its best condition for wildlife. Thicker vegetation will support more animal species, and younger vegetation allows rare plants to emerge.

The fire at Rosenannon is not the first to have been started deliberately at the site;  several earlier fires include an arson attack in March 2012 that caused severe damage. And Tuesday’s blaze came just two days before a much larger fire – the cause of which is still unknown – on Dartmoor. (Stop press: yet another fire today, 12 February, this time on Exmoor.)

The destruction at Rosenannon is particularly concerning in the light of recent research by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust for its upcoming State of Nature report. Key findings from this show that many species and habitats have been in steep decline across Cornwall since the 1980s.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust has set up an emergency fund to help restore the site following the fire. If you would like to contribute to this, just click here.