Battle to protect heathland from fire and crime

FIGHTING FIRE: Firefighters dampen hotspots at the scene of a heath fire on Ham Common last year

FIGHTING FIRE: Gaynor Mant

First published in News Dorset Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Senior Reporter

AN OPERATION to protect Dorset’s heathland has been ignited once again.

Police are joining forces with partner agencies to reduce anti-social behaviour, theft and fire damage.

It is the 15th successive year of the Operation Heathland initiative, which will run until the end of September.

Last year it saw the number of heath fires fall from 163 in 2011 to 111.

The total amount of heathland damaged by fire was significantly reduced from 71.1 hectares in 2011 to 12.8 hectares in 2013.

Sergeant Adrian Thompson of Dorset Police said: “Anyone caught starting a fire on a heath will be prosecuted.

“Fires on heathlands not only cause irreparable damage to endangered plants and animals but also put people living nearby in danger.

“Operation Heathland will see high-visibility police patrols across the heathland areas in Poole, Bournemouth, East Dorset and Purbeck to reduce instances of malicious fires, damage from fire, damage from vehicles, and theft of items from the heath and wildlife offences.”

Dorset Police and the Urban Heaths Partnership are looking for members of the community to help protect Dorset’s heathland by signing up to Heath Watch.

Gaynor Mant, community safety education officer at Dorset Fire and Rescue Service, said: “I cannot stress enough how important it is to take extra care when enjoying our heaths and open areas.

“If you are a smoker, extinguish them fully before disposing of them. Never just throw them lit. The result could be 50 or 100 firefighters tackling the subsequent blaze.”

The partnership would like anyone who regularly visits the heathland to give feedback.

For more details call 01202 642787, email urbanheaths@ dorsetcc.gov.uk or visit the Community Heath Watch Dorset Facebook page.

Residents and visitors to heathland in Dorset are asked to follow some simple steps:

  • If you are on a heath when a fire occurs please leave by the nearest exit and call 999 with as much information as possible.
  • You can also help by reporting any anti-social behaviour on the heaths either to the wardens or to the police on 101.
  • Please remember it is not safe to light barbecues or camp fires on any heathland site.
  • Do not ride motorbikes on the heath – it causes irreparable damage to the land and wildlife.

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