By David Saunders
Director of Land Management
Sussex Wildlife Trust own or manage 32 nature reserves across Sussex, including Iping and Stedham Commons, near Midhurst in West Sussex.
On 28 February a fire broke out across the north-western section of Iping Common caused by a spark from a bonfire. Despite the efforts of staff and volunteers using fire beaters, the spread was not contained by the beaters or the internal fire breaks that were in place. The Fire Brigade attended and thanks to their prompt response the fire was extinguished.
Sussex Wildlife Trust wish to publicly commend the efforts of the Fire Service and thank them for their assistance. Sussex Wildlife Trust would also like to apologise for any distress or concern caused to members of the local community and visitors to the reserve, some of whom have let us know how upset they are by the drastic change of scenery.
Sussex Wildlife Trust has been carrying out an investigation into the incident, and is checking that the correct procedures and safeguards were in place. The South Downs National Park Authority has offered to scrutinise this report to review our protocols, and offer any recommendations to improve them. This feedback will be noted and implemented.
As far as the effect on the Nature Reserve is concerned, although rather drastic visually at the moment, we know from past experiences elsewhere that the landscape will recover rapidly, and wildlife is already showing signs of re-colonising the burnt areas. Dartford warbler and woodlark have been seen since the fire, and plenty of suitable nesting habitat exists on the adjacent un-burnt sections of Iping Common.
Burning is an ancient practice for managing heaths and is still used today.It allows heather to rejuvenate to the benefit of the wide variety of plants and animals that inhabit heathland.
In order to restrict the build- up of woody, flammable, material on the reserve management will continue, including cutting, scraping, mowing, mulching and smaller, controlled burning of scrub and heather where necessary. In addition, once the perimeter fencing has been completed, cattle will be introduced this summer to control the growth to help keep the habitat as open heathland and prevent the build-up of dry grasses.
There will be an opportunity for those people who have expressed concern about the reserve and the wider public, to meet our staff at a drop-in day in the spring.Sussex Wildlife Trust Reserve Managers and our Senior Ecologist will be available to talk to visitors and answer any questions they may have.