ONE of Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves was set alight as part of a suspected arson attack – the third major fire to devastate the heathland in the past three years.

Fire brigades were called to tackle the blaze at Rosenannon Downs Nature Reserve near Bodmin on Monday night (March 7), after receiving multiple reports by members of the local community. The two mile-long ‘fire front’ took firefighters just under two hours to bring under control and was eventually extinguished by 10pm.

Around 15 hectares of land, equal to the size of 37 football fields, was burned to the ground, along with 250 metres of fencing which had been used to keep the site stockproof and to allow grazing of the site with native North Devon cattle.

Andy Collins, Mid-Cornwall Reserves Manager at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: “We are devastated by this latest fire. Uncontrolled burns like this one are destructive, irresponsible and put human life and wildlife in danger.

“Rosenannon Downs has been subject to this kind of behaviour before. Fortunately, after last year’s emergency appeal, we we’re able to re-cut firebreaks to slow and stop the spread of wildfires like this one – and they definitely did their job last night. Otherwise, we would’ve seen a lot more damage to this reserve.”

Controlled burning is recognised as an effective way of managing areas of heathland like Rosenannon Downs. It is used by conservation organisations, including Cornwall Wildlife Trust, to open up areas to wildflowers and help promote a variety of vegetation. However, the process must be strictly controlled, carried out at the right time of year and areas to be burned should be small in proportion to the overall size of the site.

Cornwall accounts for just over 2% of the world’s lowland heathland, making it an important habitat on a worldwide scale. The heathlands at Rosenannon Downs Nature Reserve support a number of rare birds, mammals and insects, including meadow pipits and skylarks that would have been preparing to nest at this time of year.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust has reported the incident to Devon and Cornwall Police and is continuing to assess the damage caused.

The fire at Rosenannon Downs could be seen as far away as Indian Queens and required six crews from Wadebridge, St Columb, Bodmin, Padstow, Delabole and St Dennis fire stations, according to Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service.

Terry Nottle, Station Manager based at Bodmin Community Fire Station who attended the incident, said the day after the blaze: “We received a number of calls about a fire at Rosenannon Downs at around 8.15pm last night, and initially sent 12 firefighters from Wadebridge and St Columb to the scene. Upon arrival, the team called for additional fire engines after seeing the large fire front. We also saw ground-nesting birds fly away as the fire approached.

“These wildfires are resource-intensive and involve us deploying a large number of firefighters, often in difficult terrain, as was the case last night with the weather and poor visibility. It also has impacts for the community, with large amounts of smoke affecting neighbouring properties, as well as for the farming community who use this land for their livestock.”

Cornwall Wildlife Trust would like to thank those who reported the fire to Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, as well as the fire brigades for their rapid response which has saved much of this nature reserve from destruction.

This is the third unexpected fire to have taken place at Rosenannon Downs in the past three years. Over 20 hectares of heathland was burned at Rosenannon Downs in February 2021. Another of Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves, Bartinney Downs, was also targeted last April in a suspected act of arson.

The restoration work required to fix the fencing at Rosenannon Downs will be made possible thanks to Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Nature Reserves Fund, which plays a crucial role in helping the charity to manage more than 5,500 acres of land vital for protecting wildlife and capturing carbon. To donate to the Nature Reserves Fund, please visit