3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Lancashire Life today click here

Huge fires devastate the landscape and wildlife of Winter Hill

PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 July 2018

Firefighters tackle a wildfire on Winter Hill near Bolton. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Firefighters tackle a wildfire on Winter Hill near Bolton. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Huge swathes of Lancashire countryside have been destroyed by fires which have wiped out whole ecosystems

It’s like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie: figures in a ravaged landscape are silhouetted against the flames which are leaving a trail of devastation from which it will take years – possibly decades – to recover.

The fires on Winter Hill and Saddleworth Moor broke out in late June after weeks of warm weather left the areas tinderbox dry. And as the heatwave continued, firefighters from across Lancashire worked with colleagues drafted in from all over the country. Trenches were dug and trees felled as they tried to slow the rate the fire could spread and while firefighters on the ground were beating the flames and dampening the ground, helicopters dropped water from above.

And their job was made even harder by the peat ground which was burning beneath their feet, meaning even when the flames were extinguished in one area, they could spring up elsewhere.

Three men in their 20s have been arrested in connection with the fires which left smoke visible for miles as the flames swept across the countryside, destroying wildlife and wiping out habitats.

Russell Hedley, from the Woodland Trust: ‘Whole ecosystems – from birds down to the likes of caterpillars and insects – will have been wiped out by the fire but at this stage we can only speculate as to the exact damage.

‘Breeding birds, such as the curlew, a red-list species, will have been affected. And it will have affected the whole invertebrate community, too. Moorland is increasingly rare across Europe. It will probably take a decade to fully recover.

‘We are probably looking at losses to ground-nesting birds, particularly fledglings – skylark, meadow pipit, wheatear, twite, curlew. Twite especially have bred rarely on the moors over the past decade.’

And speaking about the Winter Hill fire, Alan Wright of Lancashire Wildlife Trust said: ‘Mammals like rabbits, field voles and mice will have perished which will affect food for birds of prey and foxes. We may even have lost some brown hares in the area. This may mean buzzards and kestrel will not be flying in the area for some time.

‘Insects will have died and insect foodplants will have been destroyed and will take some time to return. Like Saddleworth, we have cottongrass up there which is important for butterflies. That will take years to return.’

More from Out & About


From cyclists to star-gazers, Bowland is attracting more visitors. It’s Hetty Byrne’s job to ensure they have fun without harming the environment

Read more

The town has shown a lot of bottle to bounce back from a national mocking. Now, its football team and its high street are on the up

Read more
Wednesday, August 8, 2018

People of all ages are doing their bit to ensure Croston retains its place as one of our favourite villages

Read more
Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Get away from it all and hit the heights with these great (but challenging) Lakeland rounds

Read more
Lake District
Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Pete Tasker has celebrated 30 years with the National Trust.

Read more
Beatrix Potter
Monday, August 6, 2018

A newly launched loyalty card means supporting local businesses is all the rage

Read more
Thursday, August 2, 2018

After years of damaging peat extraction Lancashire’s mosslands are being restored. The Wildlife Trust campaigns manager Alan Wright visits two – Cadishead Moss and Little Woolden Moss in Salford

Read more
Monday, July 30, 2018

Ramsbottom may have become a property hotspot and a foodie destination in recent years, but thing that remains a constant is the wonderful walking landscape right on its doorstep.

Read more
Monday, July 23, 2018

Huge swathes of Lancashire countryside have been destroyed by fires which have wiped out whole ecosystems

Read more
Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Handmade and homegrown are the key to success at these Burscough businesses, writes Rebekka O’Grady

Read more
Monday, July 16, 2018

Water vole numbers have plummeted in the last 10 years caused mainly by a 30 per cent decline in their habitats. The Carbon Landscape’s Katie Chambers goes on a search for these rare mammals.

Read more
Friday, July 13, 2018

Author and photographer Richard Barrett, who wrote ‘Cycling in the Lake District’ for the Kendal-based guidebook publisher, Cicerone, chooses his top 5 rides.

Read more
Lake District Cycling

From growing in the garden to fun at a festival, there’s a real buzz in this coastal town

Read more

A new generation of businesses are making the Lancashire town a destination in its own right

Read more
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Subscribe or buy a mag today

Local Business Directory

Lancashire's trusted business finder

Property Search