Suspected arson attack 'decimates' wildlife at North West nature reserve

Wildlife including lizards, field mice and ground-nesting birds have been harmed in a fire at a rare heath habitat, an environmental charity said.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 9:47 am

Firefighters were called to Little Woolden Moss in Salford, Greater Manchester at around 7.30pm on Monday, April 12.

The cause of the fire - which "decimated" around 500 sq m (5382 sq ft) of peat land - is unknown, although the Wildlife Trust believe it was started deliberately.

The charity said it was "extremely concerned" for the animals who live in the habitat, which included common lizards, field voles and rare bog bush crickets.

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A number of ground-nesting birds, including the amber-listed nightjar, may also have been harmed in the blaze.

Jenny Bennion, Peatlands Communications Officer at The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, said there had been "repeated acts of vandalism" in the area in recent years.

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She said: "We are absolutely devastated by this latest fire. Little Woolden Moss has been subject to repeated acts of vandalism and anti-social behaviour over the past few years, including fence and gate vandalism, numerous other incidences of suspected arson, use of the site by off-road vehicles, and even threats against our staff.

Common lizards, field voles, rare bog bush crickets and nightjars live in the habitat. (Photo by Lancashire Wildlife Trust)

"Addressing this takes up vital resources and staff time, not to mention the effect on the wildlife.

"It will be hard to ascertain the extent of the damage to the plants and animals from this latest fire for some time, but we will do our best to monitor the situation and restore the habitat."

Little Woolden Moss is a former horticultural peat extraction site and one of the few remaining fragments of peatland.

Home to rare and specialised wildlife, peatlands act as carbon stores, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in their peaty soils for millennia, making them vital natural resources in the fight against climate change.

The blaze destroyed around 500 sq metres of rare peat land habitat (Photo by Lancashire Wildlife Trust)

The incident has been reported to Greater Manchester Police.

"We would like to express our huge thanks to the local fire service who responded so quickly, and to the member of the public who alerted them so promptly," Jenny Bennion added.

"We really rely on the support of our local community, as we simply cannot be on site 24/7, and would appeal to anyone who witnesses any further instances of anti-social behaviour in the area to contact the police on 101, if it is safe to do so, and to also report it to us at [email protected]"

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The cause of the fire is unknown, although the Wildlife Trust believe it was started deliberately. (Photo by Lancashire Wildlife Trust)