A fire which destroyed a bird-watching hide at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve in St Neots was probably caused by a discarded barbecue, Huntingdonshire District Council has said.
The people who caused the fire have been branded “irresponsible” both for using the barbecue in tinder-dry conditions and for breaching the coronavirus lockdown rules.
Cllr Marge Beuttell, executive member for operations and environment at the council, said: “Whilst fortunately no-one came to any harm, the hide was damaged beyond repair.
“Thanks to the quick response of the fire brigade the fire did not spread to the boardwalk and surrounding area.”
Cllr Beuttell said: “We are extremely disappointed that the fire may have been caused by the public using our precious open spaces irresponsibly whilst they are kept open and available for people to exercise as well for people’s health and wellbeing.
“We will of course look to rebuild the hide as soon as social distancing rules allow us to do so.”
The reserve’s friends’ group is about to launch a Just Giving page to raise funds to replace this hide, which will cost several thousand pounds, and other supporters of the reserve have already started raising money individually.
Mike Thomas, chairman of Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, which runs the site with the council, said: “Once we have got the funds, and following the distancing conditions, we will start to rebuild.
“The fire was irresponsible because it burnt down the hide and because the people were going against the Covid guidelines.”
He said the hide had been specially designed with a concrete and metal base so a replacement building could be quickly fitted in place.
Firefighters were called to the reserve on Friday evening but were unable save the hide, which had been rebuilt around three years ago.
The council believes the fire spread quickly from the discarded barbecue and has warned the public to be aware of the risks of barbecues and discarded cigarette ends in the dry conditions.
It said there had been reports of people having a barbecue and swimming at the lakes on the evening of the fire and urged anyone with information about it to email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Sites raising funds to replace the hide can be found by searching on Just Giving.