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Nature reserve’s viewing platform set alight by Conigre vandals

L-R Neil Pullen and Ashley White from Wiltshire Wildlife Trust with Pete Colgate and Linda De Santiz

VOLUNTEERS say they are devastated after another bout of vandalism hit Conigre Nature Reserve on Thursday 5th July. An arson attack completely destroyed a  newly-installed platform across the pond.

The fire brigade were called to Conigre Nature reserve at around 11pm.

Volunteers had spent days installing the new platform, made of re-constituted plastic, back in the winter months delving waist height into icy cold water, for local people to use and look out across the beauty of the nature reserve.

This is the second time in just a few months that this area has been vandalised, with a previous fire lit in May.Then, a group of vandals stole a brand new bench,  ripped out pieces of timber, dead wood and young trees, before setting them on fire.

The recent fire was spotted by local resident Linda De Santiz who was returning home after walking this year’s Melksham in Bloom route in preparation for judging.

Linda said,  “Kathy (Iles) and I were walking the bloom route, for about three hours, watering the plants and we finished around 10.30pm. As I was walking home, I spotted plumes of smoke coming from the Church Street direction, so I belted through the cemetery whilst calling the fire brigade.

“I had a feeling it was coming from the nature area, and flames were high in the air. When I got there, I knew it was coming from the pond dipping area and it was the platform that was on fire and some vegetation surrounding it.

“The Fire Brigade came within approx half an hour after the alert. However, with the area being enclosed, it proved difficult for the fire engine to park nearby. They managed to park at Sainsbury’s car park and run the hose through.

“The area was a keen interest of this year’s bloom trail and unfortunately the judges cannot now take this situation into consideration, as the area would have been included in the judging, the same happened with the tree in the Market Place last year.

“I am really upset, I do a lot for the town and it is sad to see people doing this.”

Pete Colegate who alerted Melksham News to the incident and is a volunteer at the nature reserve said, “The platform was made of reconstituted plastic so it should have been tough and resilient to burning. They must have used petrol or some kind of accelerant to light it.

“I have volunteered for many years. My wife and I are devastated, it just shows the job we all have in this town to tackle vandals, to get it looking up to standard. It’s demoralising. We are in two minds now as to whether we should carry on. We had plans alongside the Cardys – who also look after the area – to put in another bench but now, we wouldn’t know how long it would last. It’s depressing and we are gutted.”

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, who met Melksham News at the scene, say they are thankful that Linda raised the alarm before things got further out of control.

Neil Pullen, Nature Reserve manager said, “This area was installed for people to enjoy but now it has gone. It hasn’t just had an impact on the people, but the nature too.

“The tree behind is destroyed and we will need to get a surgeon in to chop down the burnt areas. The tree now will have half the foliage it did the year before and as a trust we don’t have the funds to fix it.”

Ashley White, the reserves officer said,  “This is the second arson attack we have had in a short space of time here at Conigre. This incident was very worrying as it could have easily got out of control.

“It’s amazingly disheartening. People raise funds around the town for things like this and now it has been lost. We are worried now what will be next.”

Picture: During the fire.

credit: Linda De Santiz.

Picture: The platform the next day.

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