Pack a picnic to protect our heaths this summer

The RSPB in Hampshire and Hampshire & Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service (HIWFRS) are asking members of the public to help prevent wildfires across the countryside this summer. 

hazeley heath campaign launch firefighters with RSPB representative by Wildfire vehicle


30/05/2024 2:16pm


Hampshire & Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service

The RSPB is joining Hampshire & Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service (HIWFRS) to ask people to help them protect RSPB nature reserves and wider countryside from wildfires this summer.

The appeal is being made to help prevent fires, keep people safe and protect the region’s valuable lowland heathland habitats, and the wildlife that live there, ahead of the summer months.

2023 was confirmed as the world’s hottest year on record according to the Met Office and 2024 could be another year of high temperatures, risking heatwaves and fires across the country.

Now the charity is reminding visitors that barbecues and campfires are not permitted on RSPB England nature reserves, but picnics are very welcome to be bought from home. Smokers are being asked to take extra care when smoking and to extinguish cigarettes in a safe manner.

Visitors are also reminded to take home any litter when enjoying Hampshire and Isle of Wight greenspaces, as fires can be sparked from unlikely items during the warm, dry weather. Food discarded outdoors can also cause issues for resident wildlife, the RSPB asks people to please dispose of it at home.


photo of a wildfire on Hazeley Heath
Fire on Hazeley Heath in 2020


RSPB Hazeley Heath in Hampshire is a surviving haven of the once sprawling lowland heathland of south England. The UK has lost over 75% of lowland heath over the last 200 years, due mainly to forestry, roads, farming, building and mineral extraction. But this valuable habitat and the wildlife that lives here, is at high risk of fires throughout the year, due to its dryness. This is heightened during the summer months when more people choose to cook and eat outdoors. Recently the RSPB has started management of the heath surrounding the old airstrip at Blackbushe Airport. This is an area that has suffered from frequent wildfires in the past, some as recently as last year, so the first task has been to widen and reinstall the firebreak that is parallel to the residential area.

RSPB Hazeley Heath nature reserve and the wider Hampshire heathland provides a home for a unique mix of wildlife, which rely on heathland to survive and thrive. These include Nightjars, Tree Pipits, Dartford Warblers, Woodlarks and Silver-studded Blue Butterflies. The heathland birds here also nest on the ground making them especially vulnerable to fire.

Taking care not to start wildfires has never been so important. Climate change means that in the UK, and around the world, extreme weather events such as heatwaves are becoming more frequent, long-lasting, and intense. This extreme weather is increasing the scale, intensity, and frequency of wildfires all over the world.

Mark Crisp, Warden at RSPB Hazeley Heath, said:

“We are really  grateful for the care and caution that most of our visitors take when exploring our Hampshire nature reserves and wider countryside. However, fires can be started by items that people wouldn’t even consider a risk. The use of disposable barbecues are not allowed at RSPB sites as they are an obvious fire risk for green spaces, but even a glass drinks bottle left In dry heather, grasses or leaves can start a fire on a sunny day. And a cigarette-end flicked out of a car window can quickly turn into a blaze.

“All it takes is a gust of wind to carry the spark a short distance to the dry and highly flammable heathland vegetation. And depending on the remoteness of the location, it can be really challenging for our local fire service to reach the area easily.”

Andy Weeks Hazeley Heath Fire 7
Hazeley Heath wildfire in 2020 destroyed large areas of the heath

In 2020, Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service was alerted to a wildfire that occurred on RSPB Hazeley Heath which had been started by a campfire. This destroyed a large chunk of the site in an area that had been known for it’s abundance of wildlife. This was a massive blow for the reserve with species such as nightjar and Dartford warbler displaced including nests and young destroyed, whilst any reptiles such as adders and slow worms present would have been caught in the blaze too.

Larry Mackrell, Station Manager and Wildfire Tactical Advisor at  Hampshire & Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service, said:

Wildfires can ravage the local wildlife, destroying ecosystems in a matter of hours that have taken years to build up. We want to avoid incidents of this kind, for the sake of our communities, precious nature sites and wildlife.

“Barbecues, campfires and bonfires can very easily spread out of control and drier, warmer weather increases the risk of wildfires, so it really is vital that people take extra care when visiting our beauty spots and green spaces over the summer months.

“Always discard of cigarettes properly, put litter and glass bottles in a bin or take your rubbish home, and please pack a picnic, not a disposable barbecue.

“Even when people take care to put out campfires or barbecues and they seem to be extinguished they can still pose a continued risk of causing wildfires. Residual heat and embers can cause hidden smouldering fires underground, sometimes for a number of days, before spreading to surface vegetation. These unseen fires can be particularly challenging for firefighters to detect and can easily spread unnoticed. It’s another reason that we ask people to bring a picnic not a barbecue.”

HIWFRS recommends these steps to help prevent wildfires:

  • Avoid having open fires or using barbecues in the countryside.
  • Barbecues and campfires are banned in many country parks, campsites, and open spaces. Make sure you check what is and isn’t allowed where you are and follow the rules.
  • Extinguish smoking materials properly, and don’t throw cigarette ends on the ground or out of car windows – take your litter home.
  • If you see a fire in the countryside, report it immediately to the Fire & Rescue Service. Early detection can prevent it from developing into a large wildfire incident. Know where you are, apps like What3Words can help with this.

RSPB’s Mark added:

“We want visitors to thoroughly enjoy RSPB Hazeley Heath this summer and eating outdoors is part of the fun. We also want to thank Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service – without their tireless work and swift action we wouldn’t have our special Hampshire heathlands to enjoy safely.”

Sign up to receive our latest information to your email