South East Wales

Fox cubs and hedgehogs trapped and killed by wildfires

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Media captionThis firefighter shows us - up close - the reality of wildfires

Baby animals are being trapped and killed by wildfires across Wales with whole families facing being "wiped-out", experts have warned.

As Wales looks set for its driest summer, firefighters are battling an "unprecedented" number of wildfires.

One wildlife expert said it was "heartbreaking" to find so many dead animals.

One Swansea firefighter said he found dead toads, snakes, and birds every day at the scene of a wildfire.

Last year the RSPCA rehabilitated a young fox cub when it was found among other dead and burnt cubs after a deliberate fire between Mountain Ash and Ynysybwl, in Rhondda Cynon Taff.

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Media captionThe fox cub was the only cub found alive

The charity said fires were most deadly for animals who struggle to get away, such as hedgehogs, ground-nesting birds, reptiles and amphibians.

"Species that live in dens, burrows and warrens can become trapped by the flames and smoke and suffocate," said Gill Hillan, RSPCA Cymru spokeswoman.

"This is a particularly bad time of year - with juvenile animals being born and still very young, many will not be able to escape fires."

Image copyright Liam Olds
Image caption Liam Olds said it was "heartbreaking" to see the devastating effects of the fires on wildlife

One entomologist - an expert on insects - said he has been affected by surveying south Wales' natural habitats after they were hit by fire.

"It is obviously really damaging, particularly with reptiles and invertebrates," said Liam Olds.

"The fires have a really devastating impact - with last year's fires, I don't think the wildlife is having a chance to recover.

"It is shocking the amount of dead animals you find - it is heartbreaking.

"Ultimately, wildlife is resilient and will recover but if it is happening every year, it makes it very difficult."

Image copyright Liam Olds
Image caption Invertebrates such as this slow worm are often worst affected by wildfires because they are unable to escape as quickly

The fires are wiping out whole families of animals who cannot escape from the fire, the Wildlife Trust said.

And although some habitats have evolved to "bounce back" from forces as destructive as wildfires, it can still be "devastating".

"Coming as these fires do in the bird-nesting season, they could potentially wipe out families of ground-nesting species like meadow pipits or wheatears, along with reptiles like lizards and invertebrates like grasshoppers, spiders, ants and beetles, which are not able to get out of the path of a fast-moving wind-driven blaze," said Ben Stammers, of the North Wales Wildlife Trust.

Image copyright South Wales Fire and Rescue Service
Image caption Firefighters tackling a blaze at Maerdy mountain

"But bigger problems for wildlife may come as much from the overall dryness of the ground this year, as from the more dramatic incidence of wildfires.

"Frogs and toads will suffer for example if bogs, ponds and wetlands disappear, and surrounding habitats remain bone-dry and hard."

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Media captionBecky Davies of Natural Resources Wales explaining how vegetation fuels grass fires.

Fire services are experiencing "very difficult" and "unprecedented" times, said Matt Jones, head of the fire crime unit at South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

"During the school holidays, we are bracing ourselves for a rise in grass fires," he added.

"At the moment we are coping, and while we are keeping our communities safe and dealing with the fires, if this continues it is really going to stretch the fire services."

But fire services have been trying innovative methods of preventing fires spreading - described as "fighting fire with fire" - which involves controlled burning of bracken.

"We have tried to stop the arsonists and we can't stop them all," said Craig Hope, from the South Wales service.

"We can't control the weather but what we can do is manage the fuel - one way of fighting fire is removing the fuel."

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Media captionFirefighter Craig Hope explains how his service is 'fighting fire with fire'

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