chobham common

COUNTRYSIDE managers have renewed pleas for people not to do anything which could start a wildfire.

Their appeal follows a second serious fire this year on Chobham Common and other blazes on heathland during the recent hot weather.

Amateur photographer Lee Ridley took this photo of flames ripping into pine and birch trees during Friday’s fire on Chobham Common

Another 11 acres of heather and trees were destroyed at Chobham on Friday afternoon last week, following a 100-acre blaze on the national nature reserve at the end of March.

Heathland at Whitmore Common, Worplesdon, and Sheets Heath, Brookwood, has also gone up in flames in the past week, as a strong wind fanned flames in tinder-dry undergrowth.

Much of the heathland in the county is managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust, whose estate manager asked the public to be extra careful in the countryside.

“The most important thing is that people don’t discard their cigarette ends,” Lee Thorton told the News & Mail. “We also ask that people don’t use barbecues or have any naked flames such as campfires on the heathland.

“Conditions are bad for wildlife at the moment in terms of creating fires. The conditions are so dry after a winter with little rain and there is still a lot of dead grass from last year on the ground.”

Anyone seeing smoke or someone who could be lighting a fire on heathland should immediately call the fire service on 999.

For the full story get the 25 April edition of the News & Mail

FIRE destroyed around 80 acres of Chobham Common on Monday, in the biggest blaze on the heathland for at least 10 years.

Twenty six fire appliances were sent to tackle the flames, which were driven rapidly across the tinder dry national nature reserve by a strong wind.

A Land Rover appliance in front of flames racing through dry heather

The fire brigade was called by heathland wardens who found the common alight at about 11.30am. The incident was finally declared under control at 5.25pm and several fire crews stayed on the common overnight to ensure hot embers did not reignite.

Chobham Fire Station’s crew were the first to arrive at the blaze, followed by Land Rover and Unimog specialist heathland appliances from Camberley.

“The fire had started to the east of Tank Hill, near the Longcross Estate,” Chobham’s officer in charge, Jason Patrick, told the News & Mail.

“It was beginning to race across the common when we got to it. It was spreading rapidly, so I immediately radioed to ask for 10 fire engines and 12 Land Rovers to attend.”

“Within minutes, it had jumped the oil pipeline track across the common and was heading south towards Langshot Stables.”

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service also sent three more Unimog all-terrain vehicles. Appliances attending included a water tanker from Pangbourne in Berkshire and a Land Rover from Midhurst in West Sussex, along with fire engines from Hampshire and one from London.

“The fire was crossing some very difficult terrain and travelling up some steep slopes, which made it difficult to get to in places,” said Jason.

The fire tore through 80 acres of the nature reserve before it was brought under control

The fire service set up a control centre in the parking area of the Eastern and Oriental restaurant in Windsor Road, with ambulances crews standing by there in case firefighters were injured.

The volunteer Surrey Search and Rescue organisation sent several of its units to the incident. Its members sent up a camera-equipped drone to provide the fire service with aerial views of the burning common.

It is not yet known how the fire started but a Surrey Fire and Rescue spokesman said: “As with all fires the cause will be investigated.”

Surrey Wildlife Trust was assessing the extent of devastation regarding local wildlife – see the News & Mail 28 March for more details.

APPROVAL - plans to fence off and allow grazing on Chobham Common have been approved

APPROVAL – plans to fence off and allow grazing on Chobham Common have been approved

CONTROVERSIAL plans to fence off and allow grazing on Chobham Common have been approved.

Following a four-day public inquiry, Surrey Wildlife Trust, who manage the area on behalf of Surrey County Council, were given the go-ahead for five temporary, electric-fenced enclosures on the nature reserve for a limit of four years.

Residents – particularly horse-riders and dog walkers – were concerned that this application would just be the beginning and that, if permission for this ‘pilot’ were granted, it would lead to extensive boundary fencing, which would be detrimental to the nature of the common.

People will see the fencing start to go up immediately

But the inspector has ruled that the trust would have to submit a new application if it intends to expand the fencing or implement another scheme in future.

As part of its land management exercise, SWT have agreed to the conditions attached to the inspector’s approval, which will be kept under close scrutiny and reviewed yearly.

These include the number of the trust’s Belted Galloway cattle, without calves, permitted to graze, which will only take place during March through to October. Outside the designated period, the fencing will be removed.

Access will be maintained where footpaths and informal paths occur with gates that can be used by horse riders, and fence lines will not cross any regularly used or agreed horse-riding routes or public bridleways.

Senior ranger Steve Fry said: “The trust is eager to continue to listen and respond to visitors’ comments and remain actively engaged with all members of the Chobham Common Liaison Group. Hopefully visitors will enjoy seeing the cattle, as they did through the 1990s and benefit from the improvement to the wildlife on the Common.”

SWT area manager David Body added: “We held a long consultation period (about three years) to see what the public had to say and this scheme came back as the most popular.

“We also consulted horse-riders beforehand so we didn’t cross any bridal paths. The areas selected are quite steep with tough grasses and not where people would go riding.

“People will see the fencing start to go up immediately – in fact the posts have already been put in place
– with the view to introduce the cattle laster this month.”