ARSONISTS have set work at Brockholes nature reserve back by weeks after torching a polytunnel.

The fire damaged the structure, soil and plants and will mean the Friends of Brockholes will have to seek funding of hundreds of pounds to bring it back to full working order.

Firefighters were on the scene yesterday morning to put out the blaze, believed to have been started in the early hours at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserve off the M6 at Samlesbury.

The polytunnel had been the nursery for the reserve’s reed beds for the past five years.

Volunteer Lindsay Griffiths has also been growing plants and flowers in the polytunnel and was in tears when she saw the damage.

She said: “We have been asked to grow £5,000 worth of reeds for the Lunt Meadow nature reserve.

“We were due to plant the seeds in two weeks.

“We have also been growing herbs for the restaurant.”

Chairman of the Friends of Brockholes John Cribbin said: “This is a huge blow because we have been preparing the tunnel for plants.

“It means we will have to find funds for a replacement and funds are really hard to come by at the moment.

“We are presently raising money for a new mower for the reserve officer and we have got three quarters from a kind donation, but we are a quarter short.

“Conservation work can be a costly business, so an attack like this is devastating.”

Events and communications manager Sarah Leach said: “Our concern now is that the melted plastic has contaminated the soil – so volunteers will have to dig all that out – lots of hours of labour and lots of wasted compost.

“This hits the reserve financially.

“It also meant the fire service had to come out and deal with the fire.

“The polytunnel has been a mutli-purpose building.

“Our conservation volunteers would eat their lunch in there, sheltered from the weather.”

Sarah said staff will be looking at CCTV footage to help police identify the culprits.

She said: “They appear to have gone to a lot of trouble to set the polytunnel alight, but there is no reason why they have done it.

“We will be checking our tapes and passing them on to the police.

“While the phrase ‘mindless vandalism’ is over used it is relevant here.

“If the people who did this realised how many people this would affect and how much work it has created they might think twice about doing it again.

“It is just selfish.”