Sussex

Ashdown Forest: Fire breaks out in Winnie the Pooh wood

Fire in Ashdown Forest Image copyright Pete Abel
Image caption The fire covered an area of 6 hectares (14 acres) at its height

A fire has been burning overnight near woods featured in AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories.

The blaze in Ashdown Forest was reported at 21:30 BST on Sunday, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said.

Gorse and undergrowth was ablaze affecting an area of up to 50 acres (20 hectares), in the Kingstanding area.

At its height six fire crews were on the scene. This has now been scaled back to four fire engines and crews, a fire service spokesman said.

Andrew Gausden, from the fire service, said the blaze had destroyed a valley area near Duddleswell.

"It's unusual to have a fire of this size at night. This seems to have caught hold before people noticed the fire," he said.

"The undergrowth was very dry in the forest, despite the recent rain, and the fire caught quite quickly.

"We had numerous calls, including from the police who have a training centre nearby."

He said the fire was not thought to have been started deliberately. Crews remain at the scene making sure it is fully out.

Image copyright Pete Abel
Image caption The fire in Ashdown Forest was reported at about 21:30 BST on Sunday

AA Milne created the Winnie the Pooh books in the 1920s while living in the area, near Hartfield.

The woods were the inspiration for Hundred Acre Wood - home to Pooh and his friends.

Chris Sutton, an Ashdown Ranger forest ranger, said bracken in the area was "as dry as straw", and ground-nesting birds would have seen eggs and nests destroyed.

The forest is an important habitat for nightjars and Dartford warblers.

"Reptiles like adders and lizards would not have been able to move fast enough. Large animals like foxes and deer would have been able to move out of the area quite quickly," he said.

"All is not lost - within four weeks we'll have grass growing and in six months you probably won't know too much has gone on here."

He said animals and insects from surrounding areas would quickly repopulate the area hit by the fire.

Image copyright Pete Abel
Image caption Fire crews remain on the scene on Monday morning

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Ashdown Forest is in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with heathland making up about two-thirds of its 6,500 acres (2,500 hectares).

It was originally used for deer hunting in Norman times, and has been given national and international protection because of its wildlife.

Two fires in February were started accidentally by volunteers during planned burning.

The Conservators of Ashdown Forest said "a freak gust of wind combined with unseasonably dry conditions" was to blame the fires on 26 February.

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