FORESTRY England has launched a fundraising appeal in response to offers of help from the community to restore Wareham Forest in Dorset after a devastating wildfire destroyed around 15 per cent of the conservation area.

The wildfire in May, believed to have been started by disposable BBQs, burnt for over two weeks across 220 ha of the Forest. By its end, it had scorched heathland, destroyed woodlands and wiped out critical habitats for wildlife across an area equivalent to the size of 350 football pitches. The area will take several decades to fully recover, Forestry England said. 

Wareham Forest is one of the UK’s most important sites for nature and conservation, with much of it designated as a Special Site of Scientific Interest. It is one of the few places where it is still possible to find all six of the UK’s native reptiles, including the endangered smooth snake and sand lizard, and it is home to many rare species of birds and insects.

Heathland habitats like those at Wareham Forest were once widespread across England. It is estimated that today only one sixth of those that existed in 1800 still remain, making them a national priority for wildlife conservation.

Forestry England said it has received many offers of help and support, from those in the local community and beyond, to help restore the area. The appeal will co-ordinate these efforts with a focus on raising funds to help plant thousands of new trees in areas where they have been lost. To support wildlife, the local team are hoping to restore lost habitats by creating new breeding sites for rare reptiles, and placing bat boxes and other artificial nests in the affected areas.

Funds raised by the appeal will also be used to help protect the area from fire in the future by creating new fire breaks, and investing in additional fire-fighting equipment and animal rescue kits.

Bruce Rothnie, forest management director, south forest district, said: “We have been overwhelmed by the kind and generous offers of support to help restore and protect Wareham Forest after such a devastating fire. We are so grateful to all of those who have sent messages, volunteered, and helped to provide support for this special place during the fire and its immediate aftermath.

“Destructive events like this can bring communities together. We’ve seen just how valued our heathland forests are; they are precious, yet fragile, places for us all to enjoy and connect to nature, and provide vital habitats where wildlife can thrive. We hope that through this fundraising campaign we can work together to restore Wareham Forest, ensuring it can continue to be a special place for all who spend time in it for many years to come.”

Donations can be made at

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