25 July 2022

A note from Rob Free, ARC’s Weald Reserves Manager

There have been three fires on Hankley Common in the last two weeks but this is by far the worst.  It started Sunday (24th July 2022) and is still flaring up today. This site is a Ministry of Defence (MoD) training area in Surrey. The MoD has closed the site until Surrey Fire and Rescue say it is safe. We will try to book access as soon as the MoD Safety Officer will allow and will post details of animal rescue tasks but otherwise the general public is being asked to stay away.

The photos below show views of the Drop Zone (DZ), the main area burnt.  The ridges overlooking the DZ bowl were good sand lizard habitat. It is tragic that we have lost at least two key sand lizard areas on this site as they are native to site and not reintroduced.

   

Unfortunately the recent drought has made the heathlands so dry that the heather is beginning to die off and turn dry and brittle, making it even better fuel for wildfires. 

Only last winter ARC’s Weald Field Team and volunteers spent close to six weeks clearing pine scrub in the DZ and a contractor was employed at a cost of £14,500 to clear another section. Perhaps it was not an entirely wasted effort as the heath would have been far more combustible and dangerous covered in small Christmas trees.

Hankley is home to all six of the UK’s native reptile species as well as wide a variety of other wildlife. It is sad to see some key sand lizard areas, used to found the Weald race captive breeding programme many years ago, now wiped out. The site does have 320 hectares of open habitat so rare species, be they reptiles, birds or invertebrates, will survive elsewhere but it will be many years before the burnt habitat is suitable for sand lizards or smooth snakes again.

We would like to thank the Fire Service for their hard work to get this fire under control. The cause of the fire is not yet known. 

Please be extra careful when you're out on our heaths and forests at this time of year, as just a tiny spark can cause devastation. BQs and campfires are not allowed on our heaths or forests, by law and cigarettes should be extinguished and binned.