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The National Trust's burning problem

On August 12 last year a devastating wildfire took place on the National Trust’s Studland Bay reserve, close to Swanage, caused by a portable BBQ. It took over 90 firefighters to finally put it out, despite the fire being active on an area of land just 200m x 200m.

The wildfire wiped out an area of popular heathland, destroying the habitats of some of the UK’s rarest species. It is, according to the National Trust, considered one of the most biodiverse places in the country and home to 450 threatened or protected species.

At the time the National Trust said the fire ’could have been a lot worse’ had it not been for their ‘firebreaks’. Interestingly the National Trust also said they expected the scorch land to ‘bounce back.’

Well we can tell you, judging by the footage taken from one reader at the reserve this week, that it is certainly not ‘bouncing back’ anytime soon. The fire caused a total loss of vegetation across the reserve, with the sandy soil just blowing away, and its devastating impact is going to be felt for a long time yet.

Interestingly, when the National Trust, along with the RSPB, campaigned for a ‘ban’ on controlled burning through their reckless campaign ‘Ban the Burn’, they claimed that the controlled burning that took place caused irreversible damage to the ground underneath.

This is despite science clearly showing that cool burns do not damage the land underneath. However, when the National Trust have a wildfire that decimates some of the country’s rarest and most endangered habitats their response is to tell the public ‘it will bounce back’.

This shocking dishonesty has fuelled much of the hostility against rural communities, who have come under repeated attacks for carrying out tried and tested practices of controlled burning.

But it is not just Studland Bay where the National Trust have suffered such extensive wildfires. Its history of wildfires at Marsden Moor in the South Pennines in recent years is tragic and has destroyed rare moorland habitat, caused hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage and created air pollution problems for much of Huddersfield.

The National Trust continue to advocate a policy of ‘rewetting’ moorland as being the best management technique for preventing wildfires. It has been show that in isolation that is unlikely to be sufficiently effective.

They were warned this would not work. After the 2018 Saddleworth Moor fire, Rob Marrs, professor of applied biology at Liverpool University, said: ‘Leaving the land alone causes much more damage than controlled burning, because there’s more heather to burn so it gets hotter and spreads to the peat, which in turn spreads the fire. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when, and that when is now.’

The National Trust have now lost many thousands of acres to wildfire and emitted vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere unnecessarily. Unless there is a rapid policy change in their use of controlled burning then that figure looks likely to continue to increase.


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