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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.’

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