Guardian News and Media/London
The National Trust has said it is “devastated” after more than 700 acres of moorland, home to an endangered species of bird, were destroyed in a fire started by a barbecue.
An area above the village of Marsden, West Yorkshire, was engulfed in flames as temperatures soared on Easter Sunday.
Several crews of firefighters and a helicopter tackled the blaze yesterday in unseasonably warm weather and swirling winds as the extent of the damage was revealed.
The National Trust, which owns the moorland, said the area was a “special place” for wildlife and it was likely that mountain hares and nesting birds, such as merlins and curlews, died in the flames.
Curlews have been in dramatic decline in Britain and are considered one of the country’s most important bird conservation priorities, according to the British Trust for Ornithology.
The National Trust said the blaze was believed to have been started by a barbecue at Eastergate, a popular picnic spot.
“We are devastated to see the destruction caused. Please help us protect the moors and wildlife by calling the fire brigade immediately if you spot any signs of fire,” a spokeswoman for the charity said.
The fire, which came 24 hours after a smaller blaze on Ilkley Moor in West Yorkshire, prompted renewed warnings about the dangers of starting barbecues on tinder-dry moorlands.
Three men, aged 19, 23 and 24, have been arrested in connection with that blaze, although police have not said whether it was believed to have been started deliberately.
Marsden moor is designated as a site of special scientific interest, a special protection area and special area of conservation due to its nesting bird population and blanket bog habitat.
The National Trust said more than £200,000 of habitat restoration work had been lost in the Marsden blaze, and the charity was having to hire a helicopter to help extinguish the flames at a cost of £2,000 an hour.
It was the sixth fire on the moorland this year, after a 1.5sq km blaze when Britain marked its hottest winter day on record in February, with four separate smaller fires reported since.
“People can make all the difference in limiting this risk by just following simple measures included in the countryside code such as ensuring they take home any litter, making sure any lit cigarettes are properly extinguished and disposed of responsibly, to never light fires and only use BBQs in authorised areas,” the charity said.
Craig Best, the group’s countryside manager for West Yorkshire, told the Huddersfield Examiner: “We raised a record £2,500 on eggs and plant sales at the weekend when about 800 children enjoyed the Easter trail.
“This all goes towards moorland conservation, which is extra tragic in view of the blaze at Marsden moor, which is larger than the one at Ilkley moor and is still ongoing.”
A blanket of grey fog smothered swaths of the area surrounding Marsden, with motorists on the Pennine stretch of the M62 able to smell the fumes and residents in Oldham and Stalybridge advised to close their windows and doors.
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