IT could take up to 10 years for heathland at Hengistbury Head to return to a “decent” habitat.

That's the view of rangers who have been assessing the damage following an arson attack yesterday afternoon.

The blaze, which Dorset Fire and Rescue confirmed was started deliberately, took hold of 60m by 30m of heathland near the former ironstone quarry in the middle of the reserve.

After an inspection earlier today, rangers believe no animals were killed in the blaze but said the fire scorched vegetation and plant life.

The area is not cordoned off following the fire as there is no safety issues involved.

A spokesperson for Bournemouth council said rangers estimated it could take “about 7-10 years for it to get back to a decent habitat.”

Clem Stanley, station manager at Dorset Fire and Rescue, told the Daily Echo on Tuesday: “Heath fires are dangerous and they take up a lot of the fire service's resources that may be needed elsewhere.

“They also have an environmental impact on the wildlife as well as being dangerous to the people using the heath.”

The blaze was spotted by dozens of beachgoers and walkers, who reported a large plume of smoke billowing from the reserve.