Fire-scarred landscape looks like snow has come down in June as flowers bloom

Moorland hit by wildfire a year ago looks like it has seen snow in June as white flowers bloom through the recovering landscape, the Woodland Trust said.

Snow-like cotton grass, which recovers fast after fires, is one of the first plants to breathe new life into the moorland at Winter Hill, near Bolton, an area where it did not grow before.

The site was bought by the Woodland Trust in 2017 with plans to restore and better manage the countryside, streams and woodland for wildlife and the local community.

But a year ago devastating wildfire during the summer drought damaged around a third of the trust’s Smithills estate, which includes Winter Hill, harming moorland and wildlife and killing around 2,000 trees, the charity said.

Last summer Winter Hill was hit by wildfire (Danny Lawson/PA)
Last summer Winter Hill was hit by wildfire (Danny Lawson/PA)

Since then it has been taking steps to help the historic landscape recover.

Part of the work includes “re-wetting”, which involves strategically placing wooden posts woven with fabric to soak up water and keep the moorland in a more moist condition to ensure it is healthy and sphagnum moss grows.

The charity has also built fire breaks made of willow, but says some of the wildlife displaced by the fire is coping with the changed landscape better than others.

Winners have included the cotton grass, which recovers fast from fire and has bloomed across the landscape, while curlew, skylarks and lapwings which like short vegetation, have recolonised quickly.

Hares, rabbits and deer have moved back in fairly fast to feast on the growth of patches of low level grass.

New trees are being planted at the site (Andy Bond/WTML/PA)
New trees are being planted at the site (Andy Bond/WTML/PA)

But the losers include heathers, short eared owls and voles which both prefer long grass, and common lizards which have been pushed to the lowlands, the Woodland Trust said.

It will take 10 to 15 years for the landscape to return to how it was before the blaze, the trust estimates.

Russ Hedley, the Woodland Trust’s wildlife expert at the site, said: “Tackling the fire itself was a massive challenge initially for all concerned – from the fire service to our volunteers.

“And that challenge has continued as we deal with the aftermath.

“A third of our 1,700 hectare Smithills estate, which incorporates Winter Hill, was damaged on an unprecedented scale.

“For us the first task has been about encouraging regrowth as well as monitoring and surveying animals to see if they are moving back in.

“It’s also been about planting trees and looking to the future to better prepare the land to cope better during future fires.”

The site is home to more than 1,000 species including curlews, palmate newts and wild garlic and the Woodland Trust has planned to restore it by planting trees and weaving the habitats together to boost nature.

In November the first tree of the Northern Forest – planting across a swathe of northern England – was planted at Smithills, and a further 28,500 trees were planted in March.

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