Published: 11:27, 16 June 2020
| Updated: 12:29, 16 June 2020
The National Trust is urging people not to bring barbecues or to light campfires while out in the countryside or by the coast, following a spate of wildfires during lockdown.
Despite recent rainfall, record-breaking spring temperatures has left many landscapes dry, creating conditions for fires to ignite and spread quickly.
Since the start of April, several large blazes have broken out on the charity's land, including one on the Devon coast started by a barbecue which required six fire engines and a police helicopter to extinguish and a 2km moorland blaze in West Yorkshire that tore through the nests of rare ground-nesting birds.
Though no major blazes have broken out on trust land in the county, there has been increased evidence of people lighting fires at sites including Knole in Sevenoaks and the White Cliffs at Dover.
Rangers have reported a rise in people bringing barbecues to the countryside, as warm weather has coincided with the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Kent Wildlife Trust also recently warned fire damage at its reserves during lockdown were the worst ever.
Many sites have also noticed an increase in litter – which not only blights the landscape and poses a threat to wildlife but can also fuel wildfires.
With drier weather set to return this weekend, the charity is calling on those making trips to the coast and countryside not to bring a barbecue or leave litter behind.
Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation, said: “We know that people have missed the outdoors and open spaces these past few months – and we’re really pleased to be welcoming them back.
“But we’re urging people not to bring barbecues to the countryside or the coast. They can lead to real problems, particularly after such little rain in April and May.
“Many areas of land are still very dry and all it takes is a single spark from a barbecue or a dropped cigarette to cause a serious fire.
“Fires like these undermine our work to care for nature and respond to the climate emergency, which are priorities for the National Trust. Our local teams and the fire services are working hard to keep the countryside and coast safe for everyone, but resources are stretched.
“Please think of others; think of the wildlife; think of our emergency services; and don’t bring barbecues to the beach or countryside.”
Incidences of UK wildfires are increasing in number and severity, in part due to changing weather patterns, with last year the worst on record.
The late May bank holiday saw beauty spots recording record visitor numbers while at Studland Beach in Dorset, where the risk of wildfire was extreme, fire crews extinguished 30 unattended barbecues in one night alone.
Rangers also say litter has become an increasing issue during the relaxing of lockdown, further posing a danger to wildlife. Staff and local volunteers have helped to clear huge quantities of rubbish from sites across the country.
Ben continued: “Sadly, litter has been an issue for us for many years, but it has really ramped up lately.
“We absolutely want people to experience the beautiful natural places we look after and enjoy a picnic in the outdoors – but it’s not OK to drop rubbish and expect someone else to pick it up for you.
“Please keep hold of your litter until you find a bin, or better still, take it home with you, so we can all appreciate our natural places litter free.”
More by this authorAngela Cole