The Danger of Peatland Fires

Holme Fen fire burnt ground June 2021 - Natural England

Discover why peatland fires can be hard to detect and hard to put out and how we need your help to keep our wildlife and your homes safe.

The arrival of summer has brought many more welcome visitors to the Great Fen. It is a joy to see so many basking in the beauty of our Fenland nature reserves. The vast majority treat these ancient fen remnants with respect, sticking to the mown paths, taking their litter home, and following signposted advice. Unfortunately, some visitors also bring fire, and for this historic peatland, this can be catastrophic. 

Sites such as Woodwalton Fen and Holme Fen National Nature Reserves are areas of peat, formed over millions of years from an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. We know peat is important for our planet as it acts as a carbon store, it is a great habitat for wildlife, and can hold up to 20 times its own weight in water so plays a role in water management. However, in the Great Fen area much of our peat is cultivated, drained and therefore dry, and in summer the top levels in our reserves will also dry out. 

The University of Leicester Geography department explains “Dry peat ignites very easily and can burn for days or weeks, smouldering underground and re-emerging away from the initial source. This makes these fires incredibly difficult to extinguish, and highly unpredictable and uncontrollable.”

We’re sad to say that despite signage we have already found our first three fires of the year at Holme Fen. Two have been campfires and one a BBQ but fortunately they were found and didn’t get a chance to spread. Our enormous thanks goes to the quick-thinking members of the public who alerted us and called the fire brigade. 
 

Holme Fen fire burnt ground June 2021

Holme Fen fire burnt ground June 2021 - Natural England

Holme Fen fire burnt ground June 2021

Holme Fen fire burnt ground June 2021 - Natural England

Please be aware that the Great Fen is a HIGH FIRE RISK area. The dry peat soils are highly flammable and will ignite from even the smallest heat source such as disposable BBQs and even cigarette butts. Peat fires can burn for a long time, spreading undetected since they may not produce obvious flames or much smoke, and permanently damaging the reserve. A wild fire here can mean death to many important species and destruction of rare habitat. 

The risk at the nature reserves is not just to our wildlife, but also the local residents. Peat fires can last for weeks, sometimes even months, and emit atmospheric pollution that can cause serious health problems. 

If you are visiting any of the Great Fen reserves this summer, please remember that BBQs, campfires and camping are not permitted. Please do not smoke as you walk around. 

Please stay alert to any signs of a fire as peat fires can smoulder away undetected with little smoke or smell. If you do find a fire, please inform us and/or call 999. Using What3Words or a grid reference can direct emergency services to the correct location. It's important to note that any fire at Woodwalton Fen or Holme Fen would be damage to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and therefore something we would likely report to the police for prosecution. 

High Fire Risk sign

High Fire Risk sign

This video from Indonesia is a look at the difficulty of extinguishing and the consequences of peat fires. Whilst our own area of peat is nowhere near as large, let us all work together to avoid anything like this happening locally. 

Thank you or your support in protecting our wildlife. Please continue to enjoy our reserves safely and please help us spread the word!

Indonesia Peat Fires: Why Are They Hard To Put Out? | Get Real | Channel NewsAsia Connect