Frensham Wildfire

On Sunday 11th July 2010, at around 12:30pm, the Fire Service was alerted to a wildfire at Frensham Common, in south-west Surrey.

Frensham Common is predominantly lowland heathland, a habitat which has reduced in area by more than 90% over the last 200 years. Frensham Common is one of the few Surrey sites which supports all six species of native British reptiles, including the endangered and protected Smooth snake and Sand lizard. Frensham is additionally home to the Natterjack Toad, also a European protected species.

The fire has caused the complete destruction of about 54 hectares of heathland, which may take as long as 20 years to regenerate fully.

One of the areas destroyed; Cottage Slope, was one of the oldest known continuously heather-covered parts of the common, and had been open heath since 1949. The fire destroyed half of the western slope of the King's Ridge, jumped the firebreak along the ridge, and burned much of the eastern slope towards the Frensham Little Pond. The area known as Vampire Flats (named after the RAF vampire jet fighter which crashed on 21st December 1948), was also completely burned.

Remarkably, the fire missed the two key Sand lizard areas of the Common, by only 100 metes, and less than 10 metes respectively. Even so, hundreds of Sand lizards would have died in the fire, as their natural reaction to danger is to burrow deep into the undergrowth. Any animals not burned alive are likely to have asphyxiated in their burrows.

Some animals may have survived by using rabbit burrows, and there are reports of a few Grass snakes being saved from the burned areas. Important Adder hibernacula on the eastern slope have been lost to the fire.

Click on the links below for more information:

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Update - Reptile Rescue on 31st July 2010

On Saturday 31/07/2010, a small team of SARG volunteers searched the fire damaged site, in case any reptiles had survived the fire. It is common for a few animals to survive by taking shelter in rabbit warrens, tree root systems and other refuges. Unfortunately, without suitable habitat, these snakes and lizards are doomed, either to fall prey to Kestrels or Crows, or to suffer a slower death from hunger and thirst.

Remarkably, 20 reptiles were found and relocated to suitable habitat, even after a duration of two weeks since the fire!

Species:AdderSand lizardCommon lizardSlow worm

Many thanks to Danial, Suzanne, Phil, Natalie, Helen, Alex and Jamie. Pictures of the rescue can be found via the photo gallery link above.

Update - 1st August 2010

Jamel, the SARG reptiles officer, found and rescued a further sand lizard, which had found refuge under one of the tins checked at the weekend. The little chap was released into more suitable habitat and should do well.

Update - Reptile Rescue Status, as of 9th August 2010

Over the last few days, various SARG volunteers have visited the Frensham burn site, and have rescued surviving animals. The table below shows the total of reptiles rescued so far.

Species:AdderGrass snakeSand lizardCommon lizardSlow worm
Total Rescued117341

Rescue Volunteers: Steve, Henry, Jamel, Danial, Suzanne, Phil, Mary, Natalie, Helen, Alex and Jamie