ENVIRONMENT bosses have issued a plea to people not to light fires at its countryside sites - after the 2018 Bolton moorland blazes left them with a bill of more than £1m.

Woodland Trust officials, who oversaw the clean-up at Smithills and surrounding areas, say there have been nine fire at their other sites elsewhere this year alone.

Trust chiefs have launched a national 'Love Your Woods' campaign which aims to encourage people visiting its woodlands and moorlands to leave no trace and help the protection of its special sites.

Barbecues and small fires on moorland and woodland can easily get out of control, they say, and rip through the countryside, damaging habitats and wildlife.

The Smithills blaze saw a third of the 1,700 hectare site affected, killing around 2,000 trees, wiping out habitats and displacing rare birds such as curlew.

It took weeks for the fire service and the Woodland Trust to bring the fire under control and costs for the ongoing recovery are rising above £1m.

This year also saw a fire at Cave Hill in Northern Ireland which damaged a large area of the site, while at Castle Hills in Northumberland and Martinshaw in Leicestershire there have been a series of fires.

Al Crosby, the trust’s regional director for northern England, said: “Our sites are a wonderful place to visit with so much diversity - from mountainous Ben Shieldaig in Scotland and the moorlands of Smithills, to community woods and lowland forests towards the south of England, and everything in between.

“We of course want people to enjoy them but also to take care of them, which is why we have launched this campaign."

At Smithills the charity is rewetting moorland to keep it in a more moist condition to boost a healthy habitat and the growth of sphagnum moss, while birds such as curlew, snipe and golden plover have started to make a return.

The trust estimates it will take 10 to 15 years before the landscape will get back to how it was before the fire. It will continue to restore the site and plant more trees, it said.