Woodland Trust pleads with public not to light fires on moors this summer

Recovery from the 2018 wildfire at Smithills in Bolton will take decades and costs are already rising above £1 million.

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 23rd July 2021

The Woodland Trust is pleading with the Greater Manchester public not to light fires on the region’s moorland this summer.

Nine of the UK’s biggest woodland charity’s sites have been blighted by fire in 2021 alone – with one fire-ravaged moorland area in the borough of Bolton still in the process of recovering.

Representatives have issued a simple but stark warning three years on from the biggest ever fire on Woodland Trust sites.

Many may remember that in the summer of 2018, a toxic mix of a fire coupled with droughts, swept through the moorland at Smithills near Bolton, wiping out whole ecosystems, displacing rare birds such as the curlew, damaging a third of the 1,700 hectare site, and destroying around 2,000 trees.

It took 42 days for the fire service and the Woodland Trust to bring the blaze under control, with the recovery still ongoing and costs now said to be rising above the £1 million mark.


Now, with the summer holidays beginning for many in Greater Manchester this week and the potential for prolonged periods of dry spells still forecast to come, the Woodland Trust says the risk of wildfires has significantly increased.

“Our sites are a wonderful place to visit with so much diversity,” said Al Crosby – the Woodland Trust’s Regional Director for northern England.


“We of course want people to enjoy them but also to take care of them… It’s all about recognising what’s special about these places, and how visitors can show their love for them and help us to keep them that way.”

He continued: “Our key message is to people – help us to protect the precious woods and wildlife near you.

“Please don’t light fires. It poses untold risk to people and wildlife [and] even if people think they are in control one minute, it can soon change and the effects can be absolutely catastrophic.”

BBQs and small fires on moorland can easily get out of control and rip through the countryside fast / Credit: Pixahive

The Trust warns that BBQs and small fires on moorland and woodland can easily get out of control and rip through the countryside fast – damaging everything in their path.

It’s these kinds of fires that cause “untold damage” to habitats by wiping out wildlife and forcing nesting birds to flee.

Some of this devastation takes “decades to recover”, the Trust warns.

Featured Image – Geograph (Mick Garratt)