Fire safety plea to Sussex countryside visitors after grassland blazes

Visitors to the countryside in Sussex are being asked to take care to avoid the risk of fires.

NFU Mutual said weeks of 'unusually dry weather' have put the UK countryside at high risk of fires, which 'could be started by careless visitors'.

The leading rural insurer is making a plea for people visiting the countryside not to use disposable barbecues, and to take care to avoid starting fires by accidentally dropping matches in 'such arid conditions'.

Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist, said: “After a very dry spring, a dropped match or smouldering barbecue is all that’s needed to start a serious fire in our fields and forests.

NFU Mutual said weeks of 'unusually dry weather' have put the UK countryside at high risk of fires, which 'could be started by careless visitors'. Photo: Steve Robards

“With more hot weather forecast, as many people are heading to the countryside, we’re urging visitors to take care to avoid starting a fire.

"All too often, disposable barbecues, which seem to have gone out, smoulder for hours and start fires which can engulf acres of growing crops and wildlife habitats."

The insurer said, following an 'exceptionally dry spring', many parts of the UK countryside are at high risk of fires started by barbecues and cigarette ends.

These fires can put people, farm animals and wildlife at risk, as well as destroying natural habitats

Over the past two months, firefighters have tackled grassland fires across the UK — including in South West England, Scotland and Wales.

NFU Mutual said statistics revealed the cost of farm fires as £69m in 2020 — a 40 per cent rise from 2019.

A spokesperson said: "In late March, a gorse fire on Dartmoor led to the closure of the busy A386 as the fire sent clouds of smoke across the carriageway.

"In Wales, an early April grassfire near Stormy Down, Bridgend, caused damage to an area equal to about 25 football pitches.

"On Salisbury Plain, a grassfire fire in early May which destroyed a plantation of trees was traced to a fire pit which had been used as a barbecue.

"Scotland too has suffered a number of fires including one near Dumbarton in late April which required 20 firefighters to bring it under control."

Here's what you can do to avoid starting a fire in the countryside:

- Don’t drop used matches or cigarettes

- Don’t use disposable barbecues on grass or moorland

- Call 999 if you spot a grassland or moorland fire while out in the countryside

- Avoid parking in country lanes where emergency services vehicle access could be blocked

- Don’t drop litter – discarded bottles can focus sunlight and start a fire

- Keep to footpaths when walking in the countryside

More information about safety in the countryside is available from NFU Mutual’s website.