Heathland restoration following wild fires

Heath fires are at their most devastating during periods of hot and sunny weather when the grass and undergrowth is particularly dry. Fire can travel through gorse and dry undergrowth at astounding speed. Uncontrolled fires happen for a variety of reasons, including people carelessly dropping cigarettes, leaving rubbish in an area, losing control of barbeques and bonfires, and in a small number of cases deliberately starting fires.

During heather burning the fires are controlled to avoid burning the root stock however in particularly hot uncontrolled fires much of the roost and seed bank may be lost. Animals such as voles, hares and larger mammals can flee, or retreat underground into burrows where they are insulated against the heat but slower moving animals including reptiles and amphibians may not be able to escape the blaze. The adult bird population may also have be able escape, by flying away, but their nests and young are likely to have been destroyed.

Natural regeneration will occur through colonisation, wind-blown seed and some retained generation from the seedbank although the rate of restoration will be slow. It is likely that a period of 3 to 5 years is required for some level of regeneration to occur on these areas although full restoration will take longer and some level of habitat manipulation may be required. One problem for management in the new growth is invasive grasses and bracken that will establish faster than the new heather seedlings.

New plants and heathers will grow back at a similar height, establishing a 'one habitat monoculture'. While this may be an advantage for some species, the heath needs to regain biodiversity, with plants of various ages and heights, for all species to successfully return.

Stewart Parsons