A conservation charity has issued a warning over the ‘devastating’ effects that littering and disposable barbecues can have on the environment.

The RSPB has issued an appeal to help prevent fires, keep people safe and protect the region’s heathland habitats, and the wildlife that live there, ahead of the summer months.

Now the charity is reminding visitors that barbecues, campfires, bonfires, and smoking are not allowed on RSPB Dorset nature reserves, but picnics are very welcome.

Visitors are also being asked to take home any litter as fires can be sparked from unlikely items during the warm, dry weather.

Lesley Gorman RSPB Dorset Visitor Operations Manager said: “We are really grateful for the care and caution that most of our visitors take when exploring our Dorset nature reserves and wider countryside. However, fires can be started by items that people wouldn’t even consider a risk.

“Even a glass drinks bottle left in dry heather, grasses or leaves can start a fire on a sunny day, and a discarded cigarette-end 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 heathland vegetation. And depending on the remoteness of the location, it can be really challenging for our local fire service to reach the area easily.”

In 2022 Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service was alerted to a fire at RSPB Stoborough Heath.

Due to the strong winds, flames from a portable barbecue lit on land adjacent to the reserve’s heathland, were blown to a nearby hedge and then onto the heath itself.  

Lesley added: “Devastatingly, over a hectare of precious, biodiverse heathland was destroyed and the wildlife that called it home, like common lizard, slow worm and rare smooth snake and sand lizard, were killed. A year on and the heathland is only just beginning to recover. 

“Even the beach areas at RSPB Arne are not safe for outdoor fires. Incidents have occurred where an ember has jumped from the sand to the vegetation on the nearby sand banks and disaster has only been narrowly avoided due to the quick thinking of onlookers alerting emergency services and the incredible work of our local DWFRS firefighters.”