Tinder-dry moorlands facing threat of ecological disaster

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The Independent Online
Firefighters were damping down fires last night that have been burning deep in peat upland in Yorkshire as officials in three national parks said tinder-dry heather moorlands were at greater risk of ecological disaster than at any time since 1976. Five fire engines had saturated the moors above Walden, near Wensleydale, to halt the spread since Saturday of combustion seated deep in the peat. "The difficulty is that the fire can appear to have been put out, only to break out again because it is burning deep down," a spokesman for North Yorkshire fire service said. The fire service yesterday put out a fire which destroyed 250 acres of moorland near Grinton. Heather moors provide habitat for a wide range of wildlife, including merlin, grouse, lizards and adders. "The peat is cracking, and the level of soil moisture is very low well into the peat layer," Rob Ackrel, a dales National Park officer. The North York Moors National Park has closed the 42-mile Lyke Wake Walk footpath. In 1976, fire swept through moorland in nearby Glaisdale. "It spread across several hundred acres, burned until after Christmas, and has still not recovered," David Brewster, of the National Park, said.

Photograph: Joan Russell/Guzelian