Alarm after fires at wildlife haven

Fire in the grass and reedbed at Amberswood nature reserve
Fire in the grass and reedbed at Amberswood nature reserve

Nature enthusiasts have spoken of their alarm after two fires in 24 hours at a popular beauty spot and wildlife haven in the borough.

Fire crews were called to Amberswood near Ince to a large blaze in the grasses and reedbeds used by many species of nesting birds.

The incident on Friday evening measured around 50 square metres and fire crews were only able to save a thin fringe of reedbed along the shore of a large pond.

The dramatic scenes, which were captured by Wigan photographer and wildlife enthusiast Steve Heaton, were then repeated close to the Lower Ince entrances to Amberswood the following afternoon.

Mr Heaton reported seeing another large grass fire in the reserve which was again close to reeds and ponds at around 3pm on Saturday.

At least one of the blazes is thought to be deliberate and it has been suggested some Wiganers saw the flames and smoke but did not even bother to contact the emergency services.

He said; “I was out at Amberswood on Friday afternoon and after an hour or so I could smell smoke. I made my way towards the area it was coming from and to say I was shocked is an understatement.

“At least 100 yards of reed bed and grass were ablaze. I did my best to put out some of it. There were three separate fires blazing at the time.

“The one on Saturday was even worse. This area was full of wildlife; blackberry bushes were growing, birds nest-building, everything coming back to life. Some people were just sitting around on the grass watching it burn.

“What goes through people’s minds when they do things like this is beyond me. They are destroying a beautiful area for nothing.”

The fire service said it is also concerned by the Friday blaze as it suspects it was started deliberately, though this has yet to be confirmed.

Crews from Hindley fire station spent around 30 minutes using beaters to put out the flames and then checking to ensure more smoke did not rise.

Watch manager Mark Anderson said: “The fire was not insignificant in size and we think it was started in the grass near the path and then spread to the reedbed where all the wildlife is.

“Quite a large area has been burned and with it being a sensitive area for nature then a fair bit of damage has been done.

“In this case I had a good look around for injured birds but it seems the fire moved slowly enough for them to get away.

“The concern is that the nesting sites have been destroyed and there’s now no cover for any birds which usually breed there. They will have to go somewhere else.

“Some of these incidents are totally unnecessary. Recently we had to attend another fire after someone flicked a cigarette into the grass. It’s the lack of thought from people that is so frustrating.”

The Amberswood fires may have razed to the ground some key nesting habitat but the incident may actually represent a lucky escape for nature, a local conservationist has said.

Wigan’s biodiversity manager Graham Workman says it is fortunate the blaze did not occur later in the nesting season.

Mr Workman said: “Fires in reedbeds can be devastating for early spring-nesting birds but luckily a lot of the warblers and other species have not arrived yet.”

Mr Workman also expressed some resignation at the latest incidents, saying he has repeatedly warned about the dangers of grass fires but the irresponsible Wiganers who cause the blazes seem to take very little notice.