A FIRE that ravaged Darwen Moor last month may have destroyed more than 300 pairs of rare birds that were breeding on the site as well as thousands of young chicks.

At the end of May, fire crews spent three days tackling the blaze that burned more than 5km of moorland.

Now The Wildlife Trust has said numerous wildlife species have been devastated as the flames ripped through their habitats during nesting season.

Trust campaigns manager Alan Wright said: “Moorland fires spread quickly and will take wildlife by surprise, destroying nests and killing chicks, and many of the insects they feed on. Many thousands of creatures will have died in these fires.

“The West Pennine Moors are a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the rare and wonderful wildlife you find there.”

The fire destroyed a replanting programme for dwarf cornel and heather, and ground-nesting birds among the heather, like curlew, snipe and ring ouzel, suffered massive losses as well as small mammals, voles, mice and possibly foxes and hares.

These ground-nesting birds have been hit badly, and Mr Wright said curlews were down by 40 per cent in the area and surviving birds, who nest just once in their lifetime, will not rear chicks.

Stephen Martin, a consultant ornithologist responsible for monitoring all species on the moor, said that five pairs of rare golden plover, six pairs of curlew and two pairs of snipe were lost, with each pair producing chicks that also perished.

Mr Martin said: “Fires like this are devastating to habitats, and this was particularly bad as many ground-nesting birds lived in the area.

“Plants and insects were also affected badly, meaning that the birds who are left have nothing to feed on," he added.

“Some of the species were already facing a massive decline, and we know that more than 300 breeding birds perished in the fire as well as their offspring which means well over 1,000 young birds are gone.

“It’s a wipeout of a breeding season and some of these rare species are already in trouble nationwide.

“Some will hopefully lay new eggs, but others will not.”

Mr Martin said the affected habitat may take between 10 and15 years to recover.