Page last updated at 10:56 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 11:56 UK

Arson attacks on nature reserve

Tregonetha Downs
Before it was burnt Tregonetha Downs attracted rare birds

A Cornish nature reserve which attracts rare birds has been "98% burnt" after being targeted by arsonists, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust said.

Tregonetha Downs, near St Columb Major, was targeted three times in the space of a week.

Over the winter hen harriers had been seen at the 45 hectare (111 acre) site after an absence of a number of years.

Rosenannon Downs, near Padstow, was also badly burnt this month, although it is not known if this was arson.

A huge proportion of the overall land area has been burned at a time when birds are beginning to nest
Sean O'Hea, Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Sean O'Hea, from Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: "These fires are started by people who clearly don't understand the damage they are doing.

"Controlled burns are an important way of managing heathlands but they must be done at the right time of year.

"The fires that have burned Tregonetha and Rosenannon Downs are nothing of the sort, a huge proportion of the overall land area has been burned at a time when birds are beginning to nest.

Special sites

"We're working hard to provide the best possible habitats for wildlife on limited resources, so it's awful when some thoughtless person ruins it all by starting fires."

Mr O'Shea said the people responsible may have been vandals or someone who thinks burning is the best way to manage the land.

Tregonetha and Rosenannon Downs are heathland sites of special scientific interest, supporting a "range of habitats and species" according to the trust.

Cornwall County Fire Brigade confirmed the fires at Tregonetha were being treated as arson.



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