Blaze destroys important wildlife area at St Bees Head

Firefighters were recently called out to tackle a large blaze on the South Head at St Bees, which has damaged an important area for nesting birds and wildlife.

An area the size of around four football pitches has been destroyed following the fire which broke out on the evening of 12 June. The area is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), so is an important place for wildlife. The gorse and heath habitat that has been burned was home to a variety of nesting birds, plants and butterflies that have been badly affected by the fire.

Dave Blackledge, RSPB Site Manager for St Bees Head said: “This is a stark reminder of how easily fire can spread following the dry conditions we have had in the past few weeks. Whilst unintentional, the consequences can be devastating for wildlife. Around 30 nests of birds such as stonechat, linnet and whitethroat, which breed on St Bees Head, have been lost to the blaze, and it is likely many of the adult birds were unable to get away from it too.

“The site is also home to some unusual plants like bloody cranesbill and a range of butterflies such as wall brown and large skipper that have all been affected by this incident. Thankfully the fire did not reach the 25,000 thousand strong seabird colony that St Bees is famous for, as the majority of those breed on the RSPB reserve on the North Head. However, a careless act can do a lot of harm, and we ask that all those visiting the site are respectful of the habitat and the wildlife here to avoid future problems.”

Kate Doughty from Natural England, who oversee Sites of Special Scientific Interest, said: “It will take many years for burnt the clifftop habitats at St Bees to recover and there is a risk that some of the special rare plants that grow there may never return. We are all extremely relieved that the seabird colony avoided a similar fate, thanks to the fantastic job performed by the firefighters from Cumbria Fire and Rescue.”

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