Conservationists and nature enthusiasts have condemned vandals who lit a series of fires at a Wigan beauty spot.
Around eight separate small blazes were set at Kirkless Nature Reserve around a week ago.
The incident has led to a chorus of condemnation, with one Wigan wildlife lover expressing his disgust at the events at the area known locally as the Rabbit Rocks.
The authorities have also been strongly critical of the fires at the green space which is owned by Wigan Council and maintained by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust (LWT).
Both expressed fears that populations of birds, insects and plants living in the wildlife haven will have suffered considerable setbacks.
LWT Wigan projects manager Mark Champion said: “This is concerning. Somebody’s obviously walked around with a cigarette lighter or a box of matches and set multiple relatively small fires.
“Each fire is probably only the size of a badminton court but the area affected in total adds up quite quickly.
“We are managing the fire risk as best we can but we have had eight weeks of near drought and high temperatures.
“In those conditions it only takes the smallest amount of vandalism to have a big effect.
“There has been damage to habitats over quite an extensive area, I would probably say up to an hectare.
“It will have affected the grasslands and the species of plants, insects and birds that use it.
“Birds will have been breeding in the bramble bushes in at least two or three of the places affected.
“These incidents are always sad. It is very frustrating but with nearly 15,000 hectares of land in the borough of Wigan in conservation management it is basically impossible to be on every piece of land at any one time. There is always a vulnerability.”
Mr Champion said there was not enough direct evidence to involve the police about the latest Kirkless fires but stressed LWT meets regularly with officers and the fire brigade.
Wildlife enthusiast Steve Heaton, who took pictures of the wrecked habitats, also spoke out against the apparently deliberate damage to Kirkless.
Mr Heaton said: “When I went up there one of the fires was still burning. These people obviously don’t care for wildlife and I think Wiganers need to be making more noise about it.
“The sad thing about this is that at this time of year birds could have had nests with chicks in the bushes.
“The way we’re going there will be no wildlife left in Wigan in a bit.
“All their habitats will have been destroyed either by housing developments or by these individuals setting fire to the countryside.”
Suspected criminal activity in the borough’s green spaces should be referred to the police using 101 and anti-social behaviour can be reported using Wigan Council’s ReportIt app.