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Pack a picnic to protect Nottinghamshire's countryside this summer

Posted on 31 May 2024

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is joining Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) to ask people to help them protect Nottinghamshire’s RSPB nature reserves and wider countryside from wildfires this summer. 

The appeal is being made to help prevent fires, keep people safe and protect the region’s valuable woodland and heathland landscapes, and the wildlife that live there, ahead of the summer months.

RSPB is reminding visitors that barbeques (as well as campfires, bonfires, and smoking) are not allowed on their nature reserves, but picnics are very welcome. Visitors are also being asked to take home any litter when enjoying Nottinghamshire’s greenspaces, as fires can be sparked from unlikely items during the warm, dry weather. Food discarded outdoors can also cause issues for resident wildlife, the RSPB asks people to please dispose of it at home.

The adjoining RSPB nature reserves at Sherwood Forest and Budby South Forest in Nottinghamshire form an ancient and beautiful landscape, steeped in history and rich with wildlife. The site is full of ancient oaks which have stood for over 500 years and the region’s largest area of open heathland. But this valuable landscape, and the wildlife that live there, is at high risk of fires throughout the year, due to its dryness. This is heightened during the summer months when more people choose to cook and eat outdoors.

RSPB Sherwood Forest, Budby South Forest and the wider Nottinghamshire countryside provides a home for a unique mix of wildlife, including some rare and endangered insects and birds, which rely on this special woodland to survive and thrive. These include the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and the Hazel Pot Beetle.

The enigmatic Nightjar is also a summer visitor to the reserves.  As a ground nesting bird it is especially vulnerable to fires.

Taking care to not start wildfires has never been so important. Climate change means that in the UK, and around the world, extreme weather events such as heatwaves are becoming more frequent, long-lasting, and intense. This extreme weather is increasing the scale, intensity, and frequency of wildfires all over the world. 

Jess Dumoulin, Visitor Experience Officer at RSPB Sherwood, said: “We are really grateful for the care and caution that most of our visitors take when exploring RSPB Sherwood Forest, Budby South Forest, and the wider countryside. However, fires can be started by items that people wouldn’t even consider a risk. The use of disposable barbeques are not allowed at RSPB sites as they are an obvious fire risk for green spaces, but even a glass drinks bottle left in dry heather, grasses or leaves can start a fire on a sunny day. And a cigarette-end flicked out of a car window can quickly turn into a blaze.

“All it takes is a gust of wind to carry the spark a short distance to the dry and highly flammable woodland. And depending on the remoteness of the location, it can be really challenging for our local fire service to reach the area easily.”

During the hot, dry summer of 2022 RSPB staff found campfires that had been lit at both Budby South Forest and Sherwood Forest, very close to irreplaceable ancient oak trees, including an incredible and much-loved ancient known as the Major Oak. 

A further fire at Budby in 2023 also required the assistance of Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service to put the blaze out.

Jess continues: “Not only do the fires threaten life above ground, they do immeasurable damage to wildlife beneath the surface too, including invertebrates, plants and fungi, which are all vital to the health of the forest.”

Dan Palmer, Group Manager of Prevention for Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Wildfires can ravage the local wildlife, destroying ecosystems in a matter of hours that have taken years to build up. Every wildfire starts with human intervention, whether that’s carelessness or a deliberate act, so we need everyone who enjoys our beautiful open spaces to work with us to help protect them.”

Wildfires have also been accidentally caused by people who believe they have acted responsibly, ensuring campfire flames have been visibly put out after use. However, unbeknownst to them the fire has travelled below the ground’s surface.

Dan explains: “Seemingly extinguished bonfires and barbeques often pose a continued risk of causing wildfires. Residual heat and embers can cause hidden smoldering fires underground, sometimes for a number of days, before spreading to surface vegetation. These unseen fires can be particularly challenging for firefighters to detect and can easily spread unnoticed. It’s another reason that we ask people to bring a picnic not a BBQ.”

NFRS recommends these steps to help prevent wildfires:

·       Avoid having open fires or using barbecues in the countryside.

·       Barbecues and campfires are banned in many country parks, campsites and open spaces. Make sure you check what is and isn’t allowed where you are and follow the rules.

·       Extinguish smoking materials properly, and don’t throw cigarette ends on the ground or out of car windows.

·       Take your litter home – especially glass bottles, as it can act as a lens, focusing sunlight into a high energy beam that is intense enough to cause adjacent material to smoulder and catch fire.

·       If you see a fire in the countryside, ring 999 immediately. Early detection can prevent it from developing into a large wildfire incident. Know where you are, apps like What3Words can help with this.

RSPB’s Jess added: “We want visitors to thoroughly enjoy RSPB Sherwood Forest and Budby South Forest this summer and eating outdoors is part of the fun. Visitors are welcome to bring their own pre-prepared food from home or purchase a takeaway picnic from our café. Visitors will find a number of accessible benches throughout the reserve, including at the Major Oak, offering stunning views and perfect for enjoying a picnic.

“We also want to thank Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service - without their tireless work and swift action we wouldn’t have our special Nottingham countryside to enjoy safely.”