A NEW warden scheme set up by the Friends of Thursley Common in the wake of two major heathland fires in the past 14 months has now swung into action.

Around 20 ‘bluecoats’ have already signed up to the scheme, to provide a friendly face for visitors to the common, but also to minimise the risk of further blazes, as well as vandalism, rogue dogs and other anti-social behaviour.

The volunteer scheme was the brainchild of Thursley Parish Council chairman James Mendelssohn and his Elstead counterpart Pat Murphy, and is supported by Natural England, responsible for the Thursley National Nature Reserve.

It has seen already seen wardens put in hundreds of hours of work on the commons since Easter, and there are hopes of expanding the scheme as more volunteers sign up.

Alan Froggatt, one of the volunteer wardens, said: “We are on the lookout for anything which threatens the reserve and its rare species such as fire, vandalism or antisocial behaviour.

“Our purpose is to provide friendly faces on the common helping, guiding and informing visitors how best to enjoy their stay, but at the same time to urge suitable control of dogs which can disturb precious wildlife, make sure they are aware of fire risk and not to hesitate to dial 999 if they see even the smallest outbreak.

“Fire is a constant threat to our local commons and with an increasing number of visitors ever more likely.

“Apart from last year’s 120-hectare blaze at Thursley, there have also been recent fires on Frensham and Hankley Commons.”

Wardens take it in turns to work two-hour shifts patrolling the common on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays, from 8am to 6pm, picking up any litter they find along the way and approaching any issues positively and without confrontation.

Giving the example of a dog seen burrowing through the heather, Alan said wardens strike up a conversation with the owners, explain what they are doing and why they would rather the dogs kept to the paths as they could disturb ground-resting birds and risk being bitten by an adder.

He added they also explain to visitors what to do if they spot signs of a fire, and have already dismantled a number of bike jumps on the common.

Alan also hopes to double the number of wardens in coming weeks and months.

“I do hope that if you share our passion for protecting our wild places with their beauty, rare and valuable species you would consider becoming a Friend or a warden,” he said.

“We have made a good start with 20 wardens already active.

“The new wardens have found their stints very enjoyable and are looking forward to deepening their knowledge of the many rare plant and wildlife species that thrive there.”

James Giles, the Natural England Reserve manager, added: “I am really grateful for the extra resource this scheme will bring to help me and my colleagues with our work.

“I hope they all come to love the reserve as I have over many years here.”

Anyone interested in volunteering is asked to email

[email protected] or Alan Froggatt direct at [email protected]