Before the mince pies were being nibbled and the Christmas parties got into their full swing, the Poltesco National Trust team headed out to the coastal cliffs of Predannack to help out at the farm with a controlled fire, or swailing as it is also known.
Believe us or not, the fires weren’t just our cheeky way to warm us up on a chilly winter’s day. Fires are an incredibly important process in many ecosystems, they occur naturally throughout habitats across the world and have a large number of ecological benefits such as enriching soil, clearing old dead matter, and controlling scrub encroachment. Habitat management was one of the key reasons for us to swail at this site. Rare plants that are found here were at risk of being encroached upon if the scrub had been left to its own devices. Practices such as grazing and cutting can also help with scrub encroachment but they aren’t always the most practical or feasible solution. It was not only the rare plants that benefited, other native plants can flourish when we prevent a site from being dominated by just a few species. This diversity of flora helps provide resources for a wealth of invertebrate life, which in turn supports those creatures higher up the food chain too!
Another huge benefit of the controlled fire is that it helps reduce the impact and likelihood of summer fires that can be set alight either purposefully or accidentally with devastating consequences. Out of control campfires, bbq’s or intentional arson attacks have been known and they put wildlife, people and habitats at serious risk! Even a controlled fire carries risk and is not something we take lightly but there are legal obligations, safety procedures and environmental guidelines that we ensure we abide by.
Dressed for the job in our bright orange jump suits we set to work nice and early, first of all safety checks got underway and then the team took to their posts. With the fire service notified, some of the team got the fires going whilst others kept watch. With fire beaters ready at hand our job was to patrol the fires and ensure it didn't make a break for freedom by jumping to neighboring areas of scrub. The fire was kept nicely under control with only the desired areas feeling the burn. It was a real eye opener into the power of fires and was interesting to witness how some areas roared up in flames burning bright and fast whilst in other areas the fire just slowly crept through the undergrowth.
The flames created quite the scene over this stunning coastal backdrop but as light began to fade, so did the flames. In the hours of the late afternoon we ensured all the final fires had burnt out before packing up for the day. Once we were happy that all fires were out, the fire service was once again notified. There is no denying that afterwards the sight of the scorched ground was dramatic and it was probably natural to think that it really didn't look very nice either. However, if you go down to those cliffs today then you are in for some miniature surprises. Yes, there’s still no denying that the burn sites aren't the most attractive but the wonderful thing is that when you look up close, they are full of signs of new life. Nature is brilliant and resilient and these controlled fires can have incredible benefits for an ecosystem, benefits that will hopefully become clearer to see as the scars fade and the seasons progress.