Operation Heathland Launched by Dorset Police, Dorset Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS) and Local Conservationists
An important initiative aimed at cutting the number of fires started deliberately on Dorset's wildlife and flora-rich heathland, by urging young people to protect and care for them.
Dorset Police are working with DFRS, local authorities and conservation groups to launch Operation Heathland. The initiative is in its fourth year and seeks to protect the picturesque and environmentally sensitive areas of South East Dorset, which include some of the last remaining habitats of protected species, including the sand lizard.
Many of the heathland areas border populated areas with an obvious and real threat to public safety and damage to property. People living on the boundaries of Dorset heathlands are urged to contact their local police to report any incident of suspected fire-setting.
Operation Heathland is also designed to impress on both children and parents tha dangers of playing with fire. In dry conditions, heath fires can spread as fast as a person can run. Anyone seeing smoke should leave the heathland immediately and contact the Fire Service, stating, as accurately as possible, the location of the fire.
"The heathlands of Dorset are recognised as being of international importance for their flora and fauna. many types of activity will interfere with the ecological balance but arson is particularly damaging, causing suffering for animals, danger to people and property, and a blackened landscape that can take years to regenerate." said Insp Geoff Dominey, Force Wildlife Co-ordinator.
Divisional Officer Steve Shuck of DFRS said: "Heathland fires are a particular problem for the community - not just for the Fire Service. They are a drain on our resources, but more importantly, they are a threat to the environment, in terms of the heathland itself and nearby properties, many of which have been affected and damaged. Therefore this multi-organisation initiative to reduce the number of heathland fires - the vast majority of which are started deliberately - and to educate and raise awareness of the dangers can only be a good thing for all concerned."
Cllr Graham Wilson, Executive Spokesperson for Community Information and Support for the Borough of Poole added: "The council welcomes the attention being given to the heath fires by the police and Fire Service, and is committed to working closely with them and other partners to tackle the problem."
A spokesman for the Herpetological Conservation Trust said: "It is vital for the future of heathland animals that these arsonists are stopped."
Dorset Police stress they will investigate all arson involving intentional or reckless fire setting. Heathland is protected under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. This year Operation Heathland receives a boost from a link to the Urban Heaths LIFE project, which receives European funding. The project has enabled the use of a full time police officer and a senior warden is appointed on 18 March to oversee wardening across all the heaths.