In early August the ARC managed Sunningdale Nature Reserve in Surrey, a diverse patchwork of wet, humid and dry heath as well as mire and woodland, suffered a major wildfire which tore through half of the site.

Once the site was declared safe to access by the fire service and following on from a preliminary sweep by ARC’s Surrey Field Team, staff and volunteers carried out a careful rescue sweep of the site. As many reptiles and amphibians as possible were found and translocated to nearby areas of intact habitat.

After a heath fire, those animals lucky enough to survive the initial burn by going to ground will emerge into a bare landscape in which they are easy targets for predators like buzzards, kestrels and crows. It is therefore vitally important to move any survivors to areas of cover to give them the best chances.

Common lizard damaged by the fire Rescue volunteers by Graham Steven

Most animals were found under what shelter remained - partially burnt logs, rocks/building rubble or in burrows. Despite a torrential thunderstorm at midday, the final tally was 44 animals rescued - 7 adders, 2 grass snakes, 10 slow worms, 22 common lizard and 3 palmate newts.

Overall we were very lucky that our mown firebreaks held and prevented the fire from spreading to the western rare reptile area of the site and although around 50 hectares has been affected, the wetter areas in particularly are starting to regenerate.

Firebreak which helped contain the fire The start of regeneration on site

It will take a lot of habitat management work by the field team over the coming years to ensure that the area does not get taken over by bracken and gorse in the ash-enriched conditions.

We would ask all visitors to our reserves and to the countryside generally to be particularly careful and alert during extended dry periods; please never light a fire or disposable BBQ and always take cigarettes and litter home with you. 

In these difficult times our resources are extremely stretched; if you would like to help support our work to protect heathland sites from fires and other threats please consider making a donation to our Heath Hero Appeal or become an ARC Friend to give more long lasting support.