THREE quarters of one of Worcestershire’s most important nature and wildlife reserves has been destroyed in a fire which is believed to have been started deliberately.
Flames ripped through Droitwich’s Coney Meadow Reed Bed on Wednesday (April 22), decimating an acre of land in just over an hour as firefighters battled to bring the blaze under control.
The site is home to some of Worcestershire’s rarest birds, including grasshopper warblers, water rails, reed buntings and cuckoos as well as a variety of reptiles and mammals. And with the birds being in the middle of their nesting season, the incident could not have come at a worse time.
The reed beds provide a perfect habitat for species like grass snakes, slow worms and field voles as well as otters, bats and more recently a barn owl.
The area, which makes up the banks of the Droitwich Barge Canal, was established in 2008 as part of the restoration of the town’s canals and is a popular visitor attraction.
Mark Robinson, the Canal and River Trust ecologist, said: “We’re all devastated this has happened. Coney Meadow Reed Bed is one of the most important habitats for wildlife in Worcestershire, and now most of it has been destroyed.
“We won’t know what the impact will be on wildlife in the area as a whole until next year, but it’s safe to say a mindless action by someone has wiped out a generation for most of the animals who call the reed beds home.”
A spokeswoman for Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service said they were first called to the site at the back of Salwarpe Court at 3.40pm. But, they had a total of 12 calls from worried people in the area, mostly from drivers on the A38 Worcester Road, who could see the fire.
She added a crew from Droitwich and one from Redditch tackled the flames for an hour and ten minutes using one hose reel and back packs. An off-road vehicle from Malvern was also used to get access to the site.
A police spokesperson said they received numerous calls from concerned members of the public who could see the dark plumes of smoke billowing into the sky.
She added: “Enquiries are at a very early stage at present and officers are appealing for anyone who was in the area just prior to the fire or when it was in its early stages to come forward if they recalled seeing anyone in the location at the time.”
Anyone with any information should call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
The blaze has stripped away the natural habitat for some of the rarer species previously spotted there. (s)