Bug hotel arsonists ‘put town beauty spot at risk’, warns conservationist

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Ballard Water Meadows
Friends of Ballard Water Meadows chair Alan Hopking where the flames reached

ARSONISTS put an entire New Forest beauty spot in danger when they set light to a “bug hotel” built to encourage insects, a conservationist has warned.

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Volunteers from the Friends of Ballard Water Meadow were partway through building the bug hotel at the site, off Lake Grove Road in New Milton, when it was set ablaze during the night of Wednesday 28th August.

The group’s chairman Alan Hopking told the A&T the flames could easily have engulfed the entire Woar Copse wood, which is part of the Ballard Water Meadows site.

One nearby tree was destroyed and leaves were scorched on the canopy of an oak tree. Mr Hopking said the blaze could even have spread to nearby homes.

The bug hotel – made out of wooden pallets and similar to one in Christchurch – was intended to be an educational fixture at the site. As well as helping people understand the value of the area’s native insects, it was hoped it would encourage them to build their own.

Ballard Water Meadows
A bug hotel in Christchurch, similar to the one destroyed at Ballard Water Meadows

“The fire completely killed the hawthorn tree behind the bug hotel – it was completely burnt,” Mr Hopking said.

“The leaves on the canopy of an oak were badly scorched and burnt, and they could have easily caught light and spread to the entire Woar Copse wood.

“We had already taken the holly bushes out. Holly is highly inflammable. It could have been very dangerous.”

Branding the offenders “stupid”, he added: “They don’t think about the results of their actions. This could have been a lot worse.

“All we’re trying to do is to improve the education in these types of matters and encourage more wildlife. We don’t expect someone to just throw a match in and destroy it.”

At the time it was attacked, the structure was still in the process of being built by the side of a large iron shed in which the Friends group stores its equipment.

Mr Hopking explained the group had been collecting the materials for it, including bamboo and pine cones, for some time and had started putting it together about two weeks earlier.

Work has now commenced to build another bug hotel at Ballard Water Meadow, but the Friends chairman said this time it would be placed in a more open space in front of the storage shed to ensure it would not be so vulnerable to vandalism.

“There has been so much of a decline in wildlife nationwide. This is just our little part to try to improve wildlife in Britain,” he continued.

“The destroyed bug hotel was new so I don’t expect it was fully occupied. I don’t think there was so much of a loss of life, but the potential would have been huge if it had spread to the Woar Copse.”

In the wake of the arson attack, the Friends group is calling on people to be vigilant and report any problems on the meadow to New Milton Town Council by calling 01425 619120.

More volunteers are also being sought to help maintain the site and the adjoining Woar Copse woodland. To find out more contact Mr Hopking on 07890 326763.

Anyone with information about the arson should contact Hampshire police on 101, quoting crime reference number 44190321209, or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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