A NUMBER of wildlife charities have expressed concerns about the decision to replant pine trees in Wareham Forest following the devastating wildfire last year.

The RSPB, Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT), Butterfly Conservation, and the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation charities have jointly called for a "new vision" for the forest, one which focuses on the restoration of large scale heathland.

They wanted Forestry England, which manages Wareham Forest, to hold off automatically replanting the area destroyed by the fire, which raged through the area for almost two weeks in May and took the efforts of hundreds of firefighters to extinguish.

But Forestry England has already replanted a large part of the 220-hectare area burned in the fire, which was thought to have started due to a disposable barbecue or campfire.

Dante Munns, speaking for the RSPB, said: "This was an excellent opportunity to expand and link the heathland in Wareham Forest with the Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve as part of an extensive nature recovery network.

"It was a great chance to boost populations of rare birds like Dartford warblers, nightjars and reptiles like sand lizards and smooth snakes.

“The RSPB and its partners have decades of experience in managing and restoring heathland at places like Arne and Winfrith.

"Having worked well with Forestry England to restore large areas of former heathland in Rempstone Forest, we don’t understand why Forestry England rushed ahead with replanting.

"We’ve already lost so much precious heathland and opportunities like this don’t come along very often.

"It’s very, very disappointing.”

However, Forestry England says they have left large areas unplanted, to expand existing areas of heathland and connect them through unplanted corridors.

Bruce Rothnie, Forestry England's forest management director in the south, said: "Forestry England’s tree planting has been carried out as part of an existing forest plan, which was developed in close consultation with a range of stakeholders and local communities, including nature charities.

"Successive plans for Wareham Forest over the last 30 years have delivered significant restoration of heathland and Forestry England has delivered more heathland restoration in Dorset than any other single landowner.

"After the devastating fire, we carefully planted new trees amongst the surviving ones and considered where best to plant them before we went ahead.

"Our work will ensure that these young trees can reach maturity and really contribute to the goal of reaching net carbon zero."

The Wareham Forest Fire, one of the largest incidents in the history

Meanwhile, DWT conservation director Imogen Davenport, said that while all the charities calling for a new vision were "passionate" about the need for more trees and woodland, there were concerns that "poor choices are being made in the push to do this quickly."

She added: "It is crucial that we plant the right sort of tree in the right place, in Dorset using broadleaved trees like oak, willow and birch which are wildlife superstars, and avoiding planting on precious habitats like heathlands."

Mr Rothnie said Forestry England will continue to work with its partners to create the right mix of habitats in the forest.