A SPATE of damaging moorland fires at Dovestone Reservoir in Greenfield have sent waves of anger and frustration across Saddleworth.
Now a letter has been sent to leading conservation groups, agencies and councils urging a review and audit of happenings at the much-loved beauty spot.
It calls for a “boots on the ground” approach to tackle the annual menace of fire-raisers, vandals and litter louts.
At the entrance to Dovestone, the RSPB motif and motto “Giving nature a home” appears alongside United Utilities “helping life flow smoothly” logo on a sign advertising the facility as part Peak District National Park.
But locals fear recent assaults on the moors by fire-raisers during the first sunny days for months could be a prelude to more problems.
The fires came at the start of the birds nesting season and officials are still assessing what bird stock may have been damaged.
They also coincided with start of the lambing on the moors and farmers are also reporting dog attacks which has led to deaths of pregnant ewes and new-born lambs.
The letter, which was also sent to Oldham Council, Saddleworth Parish Council and Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester’s Mayor, says: “Despite all your collective and individual efforts dealing with and managing the actual fires themselves, we are not addressing the real issues facing Dovestone.
“That is: on the ground management and prevention of the fires in the first place. Notices, warnings, appeals, grandiose plans for moorland protection and preservation are simply not working.
“Positive, meaningful and sustainable on the ground action is needed now.”
Meantime, Dr Andrew Taylor, chair of Greenfield and Grasscroft Residents Association and a member of OMRT, suggested a far-reaching range of possibilities for fire prevention set against agencies working with limited and overstretched resources.
He said: “Perhaps we could utilise the Parish Council caretaker and volunteer patrols as spotters, not challengers.
“These could include mountain biker groups, local running clubs and horse riding clubs who could provide dedicated patrols at vulnerable times.
“A drone facility could be introduced to identify and scare off troublemakers, with a hot-line for walkers and visitors to call if they spotted fires, plus artificial intelligence CCTV to recognise smoke plumes accurately and locate smoke source.”
GMP’s Saddleworth Neighbourhood Team who regularly visit local schools delivering presentations, said: “We will continue working with colleagues, other partner agencies, landowners and the farming community addressing the issues at Dovestone throughout summer months.”
After the fires, GMFRS firefighters handed out safety leaflets to visitors and Cadets delivered literatures containing key messages.
Jon Aspinall, GMFRS’ Area Manager for Oldham, Bury and Rochdale, said: “I would urge people to ensure you always extinguish cigarettes properly and you take your rubbish away with you, particularly glass bottles that can reflect sunlight and start fires.”
The RSPB stressed no BBQs or fires should allowed anywhere at Dovestone, saying visitors should “take all rubbish home, and if you see a wildfire or anyone lighting one please call 999 immediately.”
Dave O’Hara, RSPB’s Dovestone manager, said: “Our staff and volunteers are around most Sundays and usually three to four other days a week.
“This includes practical work parties improving paths and habitats, and a number of dedicated local people helping check the trails and paths, pick up litter and report issues.”
The Peak District National Park’s outreach development manager Lorna Fisher said: “The Fire Operations Group response to the recent fires was quick, with partners working together to effectively manage the incidents.
“With these and all other incidents, it is important to distinguish between general anti-social behaviour, the accidental starting of fires and, of most concern, deliberate criminal activity, which is always a matter for the police.
“Early reporting of a fire is vital and anyone who believes they have seen an uncontrolled fire should dial 999 to notify the fire service.
“Accurate information on the location with a map reference or bearing can save precious time.”
If you any information relating to recent moorland fires call police on 0161 856 9077 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.
WHAT measures would you take to protect Dovestone and the farming communities? Send an email to email@example.com or write to: Save the Moors, Saddleworth Independent, Units 3-4, 45 High Street, Uppermill, Saddleworth, OL3 6HS.