Public urged against actions that could spark wildfires in Surrey Hills AONB

28th May 2021

Residents and visitors to the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are being reminded of the dangers of wildfires as the weather becomes more seasonably warm and we head towards the bank holiday weekend. Just one spark, whether from a cigarette, BBQ or campfire, can start a wildfire that can destroy precious habitats and kill wildlife.

The newly-updated Countryside Code urges visitors to our green spaces to respect and protect the environment by only using BBQs where signs state that they are allowed and making sure that, if used, they are extinguished fully, with the cold ashes disposed of responsibly. It also draws attention to the dangers of naked flames and cigarettes.

Last May saw a real-life example of the devastation that can be caused by an out-of-control fire in the countryside, when Thursley Common, a national nature reserve in the Surrey Hills AONB, fell victim to a vast wildfire. A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the fire quickly resulted in a tragedy that unfolded to devastating proportions, with more than 130 hectares of protected heathland destroyed by the blaze. As the fire encroached on the Common’s protected habitats, an estimated 200-300 precious animal and plant species were impacted and huge swathes of the heathland and trails were lost – totalling around a third of the nature reserve.

The terrible fire at Thursley Common in spring 2020, also highlighted the pressure that is put on the emergency services when a wildfire takes hold of the countryside. Such a huge operation, of some 40 firefighters in the case of the Thursley Common fire, places an enormous additional strain on the fire service, a danger to both people and properties locally.

Heather Kerswell, Chair of the Surrey Hills AONB Board, comments:

“While May has seen a lot of rain it will not take long for the ground to dry out again. We urge everyone please not to use disposable BBQs, not to light camp fires or to drop cigarettes when visiting the AONB and to make sure that any flames that are used, are fully extinguished to prevent further devastating wildfires. We all have a responsibility to look after the countryside for current and future generations and being mindful of the risk of wildfires and the danger they pose to nature is one of the ways that we can do this. Enjoy your visit!”

The Surrey Hills Board is working to engage landowners and farmers across the Surrey Hills to help raise awareness of the dangers of wildfires amongst the public. Surrey Fire Service’s wildfire team led a recent workshop for members of the Greenscape, West Surrey Greensands and the North Downs Facilitation Fund groups who bring together landowners and managers across Surrey to encourage collaboration and achieve environmental improvements. The workshop highlighted the causes of wildfires, what to look out for and the importance of signage to educate the public.

The group also learnt more about a new initiative The K9 Fire Patrol, where local dog walkers can act as the eyes and ears of the fire service! K9 Fire Patrol members need only record their time walking and report any fires, fly tipping or anti-social behaviour observed, providing the perfect opportunity to spread awareness about wildfires and the risks they pose to people, businesses and local wildlife.

Those keen to sign up for the K9 Fire Patrol can email The Surrey Fire and Rescue Service

To learn more about the dangers of wildfires, watch this short video, produced by Defra:

Anyone that notices an unattended fire in the countryside, is encouraged to call 999 immediately to report it.

For further information on the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) visit