DORSET Police is urging volunteers to join a new group to help prevent fire damage to the county’s heathland.

The force has joined up with the Urban Heaths Partnership to launch Heath Watch in a bid to protect Dorset’s heath areas from anti-social behaviour, theft and fire damage.

The aim is to encourage local people who regularly visit heathland sites to report incidents while they are out and about.

Sergeant Adrian Thompson said: “We know there are many people who regularly visit the heaths in Dorset. We would like to build up a network of Heath Watch groups across the county and encourage local residents to become our eyes and ears and report any fires or anti-social behaviour they might see.”

Paul Attwell, Urban Heaths Partnership team manager, said: “If you would be willing to give up a small amount of your time to help protect these precious areas then we would like to hear from you.

“We will give training to volunteers, providing information on the best way to report what they see and the information the emergency services need to enable them to respond to incidents as quickly as possible.”

Last week, Dorset Police launched Operation Heathland which involves a combination of proactive policing and public education to protect the county’s heathland areas, which are threatened each year by fire and other damage caused by accident, recklessness and arson.

This year marks the 15th successive Operation Heathland, which runs until September. Last year’s initiative saw the number of heath fires fall from 163 in 2011 to 111 in 2013. The total amount of heathland damaged was reduced from 71.1 hectares in 2011 to 12.8 hectares in 2013.

Residents and visitors to the heath are asked to follow some simple steps:

• If you are on a heath when a fire occurs please leave by the nearest exit and call 999 with as much information as possible.

• You can also help by reporting any anti-social behaviour on the heaths either to the wardens or to the police on 101.

• Please remember it is not safe to light barbecues or camp fires on any heathland site.

• Do not ride motorbikes on the heath – it causes irreparable damage to the land and wildlife.

To find out more about joining Heath Watch please call 01202 642787, email or visit the Community Heath Watch – Dorset Facebook page.