• Rob Whitney

Important wildlife habitat destroyed by fire at Baggy Point


video: courtesy of Richard Gregory


Five hectares of a Site of Special Scientific Interest ruined by fire at Baggy Point, Devon, on Monday


  • The scorched landscape will take years to recover, rangers say

  • The affected area North Devon coastline is at the heart of the UK’s first designated World Surfing Reserve and is home to a wide range of protected and rare species such as the adder and Dartford warbler


A gorse fire that tore through a Site of Special Scientific interest (SSSI) at Baggy Point headland, Devon, on Bank Holiday Monday has destroyed the habitat of several species of reptile, small mammal and butterfly, as well as nesting sites of many types of seabird, according to the National Trust.


The blaze scorched five and a half hectares of land at the popular site, and pictures released today by the charity show a charred landscape destroyed by fire.


Staff at Baggy Point expect the land to take years to fully recover at a cost of up to £10,000. The coastline at Baggy Point forms part of the North Devon AONB, the North Devon Biosphere and the recently designated World Surfing Reserve, of which The National Trust is a member of the Local Stewardship Council.


Rob Whitney, one of the co-founders of the World Surfing Reserve says: “Baggy Point is at the heart of the unique surf ecosystem here and it has been decimated. Due to climate change we have seen an unusual prolonged lack of rain. The area is like a tinder box”.


photo: Jonathan Fairhurst

National Trust Lead Ranger, Jonathan Fairhurst, said: ‘This is the most severe fire we’ve seen on National Trust land in North Devon in recent years. The coastline at Baggy Point is a haven for many types of reptile, small mammal and invertebrate and acts as a nesting site for many types of seabird. So it’s been upsetting to see these amazing habitats go up in smoke. Thankfully the nesting season has finished which means the local birdlife hasn’t been badly affected although nesting sites are unlikely to recover for a couple of years.’


The Trust has seen a spate of fires in the past month, including one at Studland in Dorset which destroyed the habitat of some of the UK’s rarest reptiles and another at Bolberry Down in Devon which took two months to fully extinguish. Frequent fires can have longer-term effects, from changes in vegetation to a leaking of carbon emissions in the case of peatlands.


Monday’s fire at Baggy Point took 70 firefighters to bring under control and is believed to have been started by a disposable barbecue, despite frequent warnings by fire services over the summer.


Rob Joules, the National Trust’s General Manager for North Devon added: ‘We’re so grateful to Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service for their efforts, and for all the offers of support we’ve received. Unfortunately, this was another fire started by people, and could have so easily been avoided.’


photo: Ellie McCarthy

Rob continues: ‘Climate change is really magnifying the risk of fires breaking out, and while we’ve had some rain over the past few weeks, the ground is still incredibly dry. We want people to enjoy the outdoors but not at the expense of damaging landscapes and putting lives at risks. We urge everyone to listen to the fire services – don’t bring BBQs to the open countryside, extinguish and responsibly dispose of cigarettes, and take any rubbish home with you.’


The World Surfing Reserve welcomes calls for action and awareness on tackling the risks of disposable barbecues. Whitney says: “We have thousands of visitors on Baggy Point and people are swimming, coasteering and surfing as well as enjoying the beautiful landscape and wildlife. Having a barbecue should be a fun pastime but climate change has dried everything out so we now have to change our habits. Let us use this moment to act so we avoid future fires that could be even more catastrophic”.


More information on preventing wildfires can be found at https://www.dsfire.gov.uk/safety/outdoors/wildfires


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