Thursday, 16 May 2019

Wild Thoughts: Moorland Fire

(Taken from a series of Instagram posts from a few weeks back)

I read a concerning article online last week from the New Scientist magazine about the number of wildfires in the UK so far this year - there have been more already this year, than any other whole year on record.

Last year in my previous job I was working closely to plan and coordinate moorland restoration work on a large estate just outside Stalybridge near Manchester. Just a few weeks after I started my new job and handed that task over, the estate was on fire and all over the news. It burned for ages, threw a cloud of smoke over Manchester, and terrified local residents. But it also turned what was an already degraded moorland - damaged by and still suffering from historic pollution and drainage issues - into an ecological disaster zone.

I haven't been able to go back and visit that site since the fire, but I'm fairly sure it would be heart breaking. To see a piece of land I knew so well so damaged, having invested so much time and effort on, planning it's future restoration and enhancement - arguably destroyed, at least in the short term. To see it now, most likely looking a lot like the picture above would be a hard pill to swallow.

Just a few weeks after the Stalybridge fire, and a few months into my new job at Staffordshire Wildlife Trust a large fire started on the Roaches, a reserve in the Peak District National Park. While not directly involved in the emergency response, the atmosphere of urgency in the office was palpable, and I could hear and see the sadness in the conversations and faces of my new colleagues. They were, like me with Stalybridge only up close and personally rather than from a distance, seeing years of effort and investment wiped out in a matter of days, and a haven turned into a wasteland.
I saw this fire in person, only from a distance, but close enough for the scale and severity of the damage to sink in, or so I thought at the time. I've since seen it several more times from a distance, but it took me until last week to actually visit it up close.

I have seen the recent aftermath of wild fires before. As a boy I walked across the fresh scars of a fire in the Brecon Beacons, fresh enough that the odd wisp of smoke still curled from hot spots. That was probably 15 + years ago but I still remember being speechless at the damage caused.

Fast forward back to now and the Roaches - this time the child in attendance was my own daughter. She too saw the fire burning from a distance and has commented several times since that she is sad about the fire because she loves the Roaches. It has been one of her favourite places for a family adventure for several years. I could tell that even though the smoke has long since stopped at the Roaches, that the damage left behind still made an impression on her.

The decision to go for a walk was last minute. It had been the plan for her to go out for a walk earlier in the day while I was at work, but with other members of the family unwell that hadn't been an option. Instead when I got home from work we made an impulse decision, threw together some waterproofs, jumped in the car and headed initially for Luds Church - the forecast was for heavy rain so we wanted to be somewhere a bit more sheltered.

As we passed the Roaches she decided that, actually, she wanted to stop here. The forecast had massively over-exaggerated the levels of precipitation so we did so. And I'm glad we did. You could tell her 6 year old mind was contemplating what she was seeing; that the damage was genuinely upsetting to her. I think it's a lesson she will carry with her. When she asked how it started and I explained she was cross with the campers. I'm pretty sure she will be more responsible on her future adventures as a result.

Anyway, to bring it full circle, if that New Scientist article is accurate, and we have another hot dry summer this year we could be in for a pretty dire year in our moors and hills. Be careful and sensible out there people - the poor decision making may be the work of just a moment, but fixing the damage certainly isn't!


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