Rare ground-nesting birds and mountain hares whose habitats were destroyed during a devastating fire last year are returning to Marsden Moor in West Yorkshire.
Recent sightings of short-eared owls, curlews and skylarks as well as mountain hares over the winter, have given hope to rangers who feared the blaze could have wiped out entire populations.
On 21 April 2019, 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of precious peatland habitat were scorched and destroyed and years of restoration work undone. The fire, started by a disposable barbeque, took fire crews four days to extinguish and resulted in £500,000 of damage.
The peat soils, which are a vital defence in the fight against climate change, will take hundreds of years to recover.
But, over the winter, National Trust rangers and volunteers worked tirelessly to repair the moors for wildlife and to prevent future fires spreading, helped by £100,000 raised through a public fundraising appeal.
Work has included planting tens of thousands of individual sphagnum moss plugs and building leaky dams. These measures help to ‘rewet’ the moor by holding water while allowing carbon to be absorbed by the peat soils.
Rangers also cut vegetation breaks near carparks and alongside roads, to stop fire from spreading.
However, with the recent spell of dry weather and with resources stretched due to the coronavirus, the conservation charity is fearful its efforts may once again be lost to fire, and is calling on visitors and landowners to act responsibly during this time of national crisis.
In the last month alone three separate fires have broken out on or near the South Pennines site, including one started on neighbouring land which stretched for a mile and required 20 fire engines to extinguish.