People are being urged to pack a picnic instead of a barbecue to prevent wildfires this summer.

During scorching heat in 2022 and 2023, wildfires blazed across parts of the Sussex countryside.

The Met Office said 2023 was the world’s hottest year on record and 2024 could be another year of high temperatures, risking heatwaves and fires across the country. 

The RSPB and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service have joined forces to ask people to help them protect Sussex’s RSPB nature reserves and the wider countryside from wildfires.

The charity is reminding visitors that barbecues and campfires are not permitted on RSPB England nature reserves but picnics are very welcome.

Smokers are asked to take extra care and to extinguish cigarettes in a safe manner.

Visitors are also reminded to take home any litter when enjoying Sussex's green spaces as fires can be sparked from unlikely items during warm, dry weather. Food discarded outdoors can also cause issues for resident wildlife and the RSPB asks people to dispose of it at home. 

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Last month, a woodland fire was started at RSPB Pulborough Brooks by visitors lighting a campfire on site, which is strictly prohibited. The fire resulted in damaged to trees and adjacent habitats but fortunately heavy rain that evening prevented it from spreading. Had it been a dry, sunny day the consequences could have been devastating to the entire reserve, wildlife and people visiting the site, the RSPB said.

Oriole Wagstaff, senior site manager at RSPB Pulborough Brooks, said: “We are really grateful for the care and caution that most of our visitors take when exploring the nature reserve. But fires can be started by items that people wouldn’t even consider a risk.

“All it takes is a gust of wind to carry a spark a short distance to the dry and highly flammable grassland, heathland and scrubland vegetation here on site and in our beautiful surrounding Sussex countryside. And depending on the remoteness of the location, it can be really challenging for fire services to reach the area easily.” 

Matthew Gamblen, wildfire tactical adviser at West Sussex Fire Service, said: "It is really important that people are vigilant and use flammable materials responsibly, especially throughout prolonged periods of dry weather.  

"Using disposable barbecues, having bonfires and throwing cigarettes away all have the potential to be extremely dangerous during spells of warm weather. There are also hidden risks such as leaving litter, particularly clear bottles, on the ground.  

"We all have a duty to protect our precious countryside and the green spaces around us, such as the RSPB Pulborough Brooks. So please, put fire safety in the forefront of your mind this summer.  

"If you think there's a fire near you, always move to a place of safety and call 999 immediately. It's vital that we're alerted to fires in the open as soon as possible to stop them from spreading out of control."