A huge fire at a nature reserve has been described as a “significant blow” to restoration work on vitally important mossland.
Arsonists are believed to have started the fire at Heysham Moss and Lancashire Wildlife Trust fears it will take a number of years for the raised bog to recover.
North Lancashire Reserves Officer Reuben Neville said: “At this stage it is difficult to assess the long term impact of the fire, although the extent of the damage is one of the worst in recent years covering almost the entire raised bog.”
In recent years there has been a number of fires which have hampered the restoration of the site and continual regular ‘burns’ in the future could threaten the survival of several rare species.
Reuben said: “The intensity and regularity of fires on raised bogs can affect the impact that it has, but in most cases the effects can be both significant and long lasting. Apart from the obvious removal of the above ground vegetation, the flush of nutrients can encourage the re-growth and dominance of just a few of the more tolerant species at the expense of some of the rarer bog specialists.
“Critically some of the important bog mosses can be damaged or lost completely. It is these ‘Sphagnum’ mosses as they are known, that are vital for a healthy and actively growing bog. With an ability to hold and absorb water they are crucial in regulating the flow of rainfall into the lower layers of peat, keeping the surface layers damp and eventually building up to form new peat.
“Fire can also change the surface of the peat itself reducing its water-holding capacity as well as leaving it susceptible to erosion and degradation.”
Wildlife Trust Communications Officer Alan Wright said: “We hope local people will be vigilant and keep an eye out for the people who start these fires. They are very damaging to wildlife and spoil these areas for everyone else.”