Early in the scorching hot summer of 2018 about 9 hectares (or half of the entire reserve) of Longhole Cliff, one of our South Gower Coast nature reserves, went up in flames. Later in the summer a smaller area also burnt. Whether these fires were accidental or deliberate arson we do not know but in both events the fire service had to attend although there was little they could do to stop the fire racing through the tinder dry gorse.
In the summer of 2012 Overton Cliff burnt from one side to the other, the fire being chased by an easterly wind. In 2006 a significant area of gorse on the cliff slope at Overton Mere was subject to arson.
Consequences of unplanned fires
While controlled burns are some times used as a habitat management tool we have never had agreement from NRW to use this option on the South Gower Coast. Unlike a planned controlled burn these “wildfire” events occur at the wrong time of year (late spring or summer), damaging habitats and potentially killing reptiles and nesting birds. A consequence of not having controlled burns and not having enough grazing pressure on these sites leads to a build up of fuel –gorse and bracken, which in itself can dominate and reduce the habitat quality of the coastal heath, but when alight can lead to fire burning across an entire site.
Work at Overton Cliff and Overton Mere
In winter 2017 WTSWW managed to introduce grazing to Overton Mere after spending a lot of time clearing gorse and cutting firebreaks to ensure the welfare of the animals. This year we are working to get Overton Cliff into a suitable condition to introduce ponies to the site. Overton Cliff had also been identified as being the reserve now at highest risk of wildfire. While we are seeking ways to enable the introduction of ponies and funds to support the further scrub clearance and path widening work we need to do we have been able to take the first steps towards our long term aims.
Thanks to funding from Mid & West Wales Arson Prevention we have been able to cut significant fire breaks across the top and middle of the reserve. It was no easy task finding our way across ground that nobody on the team had accessed for a long, long time. This is the start of what we hope will be restoration of quality coastal heath.
If you’d like to help us protect your local wildlife please donate to support our vital conservation work which includes fire prevention to help protect these wonderfully wild places. Visit www.welshwildlife.org/support-us/ to donate to the trust’s conservation work throughout south and west Wales.
Thank you for your support!