RESIDENTS have been urged to patrol beauty spots after yobs began setting fire to the countryside.
Horndean Parish Council say fires have been deliberately started in areas such as Hazleton Common and Catherington Down, which are both havens for wildlife.
Since the weather turned warmer, more and more people have been using the areas in the evening – which has led to piles of rubbish, bonfires and vandalism.
In the worst case so far, rangers discovered a large patch of scorched grassland on Hazleton Common.
Firefighters used beaters and buckets of water to put the blaze out.
Nearby was a small square patch of scorched earth, where council staff believe a disposable barbecue had been used.
Tracy Predeth, the council clerk, said: ‘Whilst we do not want to stop people having fun, some of these activities can be very dangerous, especially lighting bonfires on heathland.
‘Uncontrolled fires on Hazleton Common are extremely worrying as a safety risk, as well as a threat to local wildlife. Increasing awareness of the value of these sites will encourage people to treat them with more respect.
‘Our rangers can only patrol during the week in the day time but the anti-social behaviour begins at dusk.
‘We feel that it would help if people volunteered to take one extra walk a night around the sites. Anything they see that concerns them can be reported to the police immediately rather than being discovered after it has happened.’
Council project officer John Telford said: ‘Catherington Down is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
‘This is a particularly scenic site which is used by large numbers of visitors and it is a shame that it is spoilt so frequently.
‘It is also an extremely rare unimproved calcareous grassland habitat, which is sensitive to disturbance and contains unusual plant species.
‘In terms of the wildlife on Hazleton Common, it is very good habitat for reptiles and amphibians. It has populations of slow worms, common lizards, adders and records of great crested newts, which are a heavily protected species.’
To volunteer call the parish office on (023) 9259 7766.
Report incidents to the police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. Call 999 in an emergency.