The devastating aftermath of a huge forest fire in Dorset is staring to become clear.

Forestry England, which manages Wareham Forest, says it could take decades for the area's habitat to recover.

Firefighters remained at the forest towards the end of the week as they worked to extinguish hotspots which could flare up at any time, while a clean-up operation following the blaze - which engulfed 190 ha of heathland - began.

Since the fire started on Monday, Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, with support from others, has been working extremely hard to bring the fire under control.

The forest is part of a large area of heathland and is recognised internationally for the rare habitats and wildlife that lives there. This includes birds such as the nightjar and the Dartford warbler and every UK reptile species, including the rare smooth snake and sand lizard.

The area is still smouldering and satellite imagery has now revealed that the extent of the fire, at its peak, covered 190 ha. Forestry England is currently working with other key agencies to assess the damage to the habitat.

Simon Smith, head of sustainable land management for Forestry England’s local team, said: “Thank you to all the fire crews, local partners and our forestry teams for their incredible work. This is a long, tough job in hot and smoky conditions.

“Everyone’s hard work means we can now assess the damage to wildlife and the trees to begin planning the forest’s recovery.

“Sadly, I know from experience that it will take years, if not decades, for this habitat to recover. Hopefully, the impacts aren't as bad as they look at first.”

He added: “Forestry England’s local team still have a lot to do. We will carry on dampening down the area to make sure the fire doesn’t re-light and the clean-up operation could take weeks.”

This story first appeared in the Dorset Echo.

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