Swinley Forest fire rare birds and wildlife 'at risk'

Conservationists are concerned about the impact of a major forest fire in Berkshire on wildlife and plants.

Swinley Forest, near Ascot, is part of a Special Protection Area (SPA) for three rare birds: Dartford Warblers, Woodlarks and Nightjars.

Natural England conservation officer Des Sussex said: "The timing is dreadful because a lot of the birds are in the middle of the nesting season."

Fires have raged over 200 hectares (two square kilometres), since Monday.

Mr Sussex added the habitat would "take a long time to recover".

The 2600-acre (1052-hectare) forest contains conifer pine trees that are managed as timber crop.

Areas of open ground contain heather, grasses and bracken.

"These are colonised by birds such as the Woodlark and the Nightjar which are really very rare birds," said Mr Sussex.

Samantha Dawes, conservation manager at the RSPB South East, said: "This is the breeding season for these rare and vulnerable birds, and both species will now be on their nests with eggs or chicks."

Image caption Natural England says Swinley Forest, near Ascot, will take a long time to recover

She added: "Although adult birds should be able to escape, the fires will destroy any eggs and chicks in its path."

Mr Sussex said the forest was also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because its habitats are "some of the best examples in the UK", providing havens for butterflies such as the Grayling and for reptiles such as lizards and snakes.

He added that the habitats would take a long time to recover because the fires were travelling underground through peat, dry leaf litter and bracken.

He said: "We really do need some rain."

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