Wildlife and wildfires

This spring was unusually cold and dry, conditions which had a severe impact on wildlife. Some parts of the country received almost no rainfall in April and below-average levels in March too. June is looking very dry too, and these conditions mean the risk of wildfires is high in parts of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
We look at the causes of wildfires and some of the ways to help wildlife in dry spells.

Fires occur naturally, caused by lightning strikes, burning dry, open habitats such as heaths and grassland. However, natural wildfires are very rare and the vast majority of fires today are caused by humans.

Starting fires 

Habitats like heathland and grassland are quite dry anyway, and in drought years, there is an increased risk of wildfire. These habitats have lots of dry vegetation like heather, grasses and wood, which burn easily. They are also open habitats, with no natural barriers to stop or slow the flames.

The Trust asks that people do not light fires or have barbecues on our nature reserves or the wider countryside. Barbecues and campfires can quickly get out of control or ignite surrounding vegetation. Even if you think your barbecue is under control, the next person’s may not be. It is far safer for wildlife to keep these in your garden or local community space.  

Litter is a secondary cause of fires. Cigarette ends and glass can produce enough heat to start a fire in dry years, which is one of the reasons why the Trust asks that you always put your litter in the bin or take it home with you.

Sadly, another frequent cause of wildfires, particularly in lowland areas, is deliberate arson. If you think you know of someone deliberately lighting fires in the countryside, you can call the rural crime hotline on 0800 783 0137.

Many animals and plants cannot escape wildfires easily, and additionally in spring, eggs or young will perish even if adults get away. Reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and plants are all victims of wildfires. Populations are further impacted by the resulting loss of habitat after a fire. 

Climate change means that we are set to experience dry and hot weather more and more often. Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust create healthy habitats that are more resilient to fire and manage spaces where wildlife can recover and thrive. Help us by following the signs on our nature reserves.

If you see a fire in the countryside, call the fire brigade. Do not try and put it out as you could put yourself and others at risk.