Articles by BCV Volunteers

Scorched Earth


In 2017 the Woodland Trust bought the last parcel of the Smithills Estates making it the largest single acquisition
by the Trust in its history. Today about a fifth the 1700 acre site has been damaged by a fire suspected to have been started deliberately. The Woodland Trust's Russell Hedley said that whole ecosystems have been wiped out. Red listed birds, common lizard, brown hare, and everything from subsoil invertebrates to the top predators have been destroyed.


Comments on social media to what Russell has said seem to make light of the fire's impact and imagine that a rapid recovery is likely. In reality, however, the fire was so intense and penetrated so deep into peat left parched by weeks without rain that it is likely that the natural seed bank has been destroyed. This makes the Winter Hill and Saddleworth fires different from the usual bush fires which are short lived and pass through more quickly. The consequence is that plant recovery could take many more years than would usually be the case. Without vegetation, and the underlying microbial and fungal substructure that supports it, there's no habitat for moorland fauna and the complex ecosystems that have been destroyed will have to re-establish themselves literally from the ground up, and this will be a long, long process. This is a view also shared by Tim Micham, the Lancs. Wildlife Trust's Head of Conservation in a recent article.

Over the years BCV has worked on Winter Hill with the Woodland Trust and also United Utilities on sites in and around the affected area, namely Folds Pasture, Burnt Edge Lane, Walker Fold Wood, Holdens Plantation and Coal Pit Road. Although our patch of the Northern Forest at Burnt Edge, ironically, seems to have escaped damage but other areas haven't been so lucky. It's not known how badly the plantations on Coal Pit Road or Holdens Plantation have been damaged if indeed they have been, but the fire has reached as far as those woodlands.The full cost and extent of the damage is not yet fully known and the Woodland Trust is working closely with the Fire Service to manage and assess the situation. It is to be hoped that the undamaged areas can be used as a resource to help aid recovery, but it will not be a quick fix.

Bolton conservation Volunteers would like to offer Jess, Russ and the rest of the Smithills team and their volunteers our best wishes and support. We also would like to thank all of the firefighters, often working for 15 hour shifts in hellish conditions, for their bravery and professionalism in all that they have done for the people of Bolton and Bolton's environmental community.

C Mather