10 Mar 2024

10 Mar 24 - A Devasting Fire Reveals Some Old History

On 12 Aug 22, a devasting Heath fire started at Studland. Subsequent investigation suggested it was down to a disposable barbeque and campfire. It was a very dry period and there were many warnings up telling people not to start fires of any kind on or near the Heathland. But sadly, there is an irresponsible group within the public, who refuse to follow these warnings or just don't care, as long as they can have their barbeque and drinks as planned.
Looking towards Brands Bay from the top of the Heath
The fire destroyed about twelve acres of high quality Heathland and clearly burnt very deep in the dry conditions. The National Trust had an old interpretation centre & bird hide at the top of the hill which overlooked Littlesea. That centre was totally destroyed in the fire, with only the bricks and concrete base surviving. While it was rarely used in recent years, it's a shame to see it destroyed, especially, as it provided a good windbreak and it allowed Birders to stand by it without their shape breaking the skyline. It destroyed at least one Dartford Warbler territory, which I generally heard calling at dusk right by the old interpretation centre & bird hide. I will miss their evening calls, albeit I've not been up to the area in the evenings since the fire.
The remains of the old interpretation centre & bird hide
The area destroyed also formed part of, or the majority of, the territories for three pairs of Nightjars. Given the mid-August date, then it is likely that the chicks from a first brood should have fledged, however, they can have a second brood and potentially, any nests and chicks would have been lost. While adult Birds can fly from a fire, there is little chance for the Heathland Reptiles or other invertebrates. I've seen a number of the more interesting Heathland Insects in the area in the past, including at least one species of ground-nesting solitary Wasp (which I've never photographed & identified) in the burnt area.
Looking towards Littlesea from the top of the Heath
Nineteen months on, there is very little signs of recovery. At the time, there were statements that it could take twenty years before this area of Heathland recovers back to its pre-fire state. There were a few shoots of Gorse reappearing suggesting that some roots survived and a few other plants: but I'm not a plant person & couldn't tell you what they are. Other than that, it was just the grassy tracks between the Heath that were in reasonable shape.
Nineteen months on, the only area that has recovered are the grassy tracks
I made my first visit to the area, nineteen months after the fire and kept to the main grassy tracks. One of the reasons for visiting was I had heard that there were signs of some of the WW2 trenches that had become visible following the fire. I assume these date back to the post-Dunkirk era when they were dug with the risk of a German invasion. The beach at Studland could have been a potential landing site, which would probably have been lightly defended in Autumn 1940.
This appears to be the remains of a straight trench facing towards Littlesea: This trench covers the Southern end of Littlesea and potentially the ground looking towards the road
Looking North along the same trench
This looks to be a small machine gun trench pointing towards the Harbour mouth
A satellite view of the burnt area shown on Google Maps (with copyright remaining with Google Maps): The trench that was photographed in in the centre of the photo. The potential curved machine gun trench above & to the left of the first trench
One of the problems for the fire-fighters was the risk of exploding ordnance caused by the fire. Studland was a live fire exercise area in WW2 and not all the munitions exploded at the time. I did hear that there were a few explosions during the fire. There was a specialist munitions team who spent many weeks after the fire searching the area for munitions that were still left in the ground, before the area was declared safe. It does make me wonder how many other shells are still buried in the rest of Studland.