At the end of May a major heath fire tore through over 100ha of Thursley Common national nature reserve in Surrey. Whist this site is not managed directly by ARC we have worked closely with Natural England to reintroduce both sand lizards and smooth snakes in the past. We also carry out joint volunteer habitat management tasks on these areas which thankfully escaped the burn. The fire lasted several days and will have caused considerable damage to all wildlife populations present, including amphibians and reptiles.

Our Surrey Field Team have been coordinating the rescue efforts in the aftermath, laying out refugia for animals to hide under and carrying out rescue sweeps of the burnt area to translocate any survivors found to safety. 

The main area affected by the fire was to the north of the site, in a wet heath area around the boardwalk. This mosaic of open water, sphagnum moss and purple moor grass tussocks provided great grass snake, common lizard and palmate newt habitat in particular but unfortunately the extended dry weather has made all heathland sites especially vulnerable to fire.

Four rescue sweeps have now been carried out which have resulted in total of 68 common lizards, 17 newts, 12 slow-worms, 6 adders, 5 grass snakes and even 7 sand lizards (who have therefore spread further from the original release site than had previously been realised) being translocated safely to the nearest area of intact habitat. Luckily in most cases this was less than 100m as although the burn covered a large, patches of vegetation have escaped within that. Refugia have been left out to make it easier to attract and catch the remaining survivors over the coming days. Heath fires are devastating in the short term but over time the site will recover- green shoots of moor grass are already starting to  reappear and will soon be providing cover on the wetter areas and as the habitat gradually recovers, the translocated animals will be able to move back in.

The cause of this fire is unknown but as ever disposable barbecues and discarded cigarettes/ rubbish are suspected. This is yet another stark reminder of the ever present threat of heath fires during the summer months. Please spread the word about the risks of lighting fires near wild open spaces and if you do see any signs of heath fires call 999 immediately.