VANDALS who set fire to grass at an internationally-important nature reserve have been criticised.

Barrow firefighters spent three hours at North Walney Nature Reserve after what is believed to be a series of deliberate acts.

Smoke billowed high into the sky as the fire raged.

The reserve is part of the Duddon Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest and is a habitat of natterjack toads.

Cumbria Fire and Rescue Station Manager Roger Exley blasted the unknown firestarters.

“A stupid act and disregard for the environment and it’s wildlife caused a joint agency response and resulted in firefighters being taken away from other life saving emergencies within the area," he said.

“Please let’s work together to look after our environment, to enjoy it, not destroy it."

North Walney Cllr Des Barlow, who sits on Barrow council's wildlife and heritage advisory committee, said: “It has probably been caused by some stupid people. I’m involved with the community centre and in the past we’ve had problems with vandals - it’s just stupid people that don’t appreciate that there are things there for them, that if they destroy will never be there again.

“I just don’t understand this. They have it on the golf course too, and now this. It’s really terrible, because you’ve got to go and travel there and that’s what you end up doing.

“People need to think before doing anything.

“It’s not just the wildlife, there’s many plants up there and it’s been there for years and then somebody comes along and tries to destroy it.”

One fire engine was called to a fire in the open, and due to the fire's remote location, it had to be accessed by foot.

Three separate fires within close proximity to each other had been set at the furthest point north on the nature reserve, of which two had burnt out upon the arrival of crews.

Youths are believed to have been in the area at the time.

Duddon Inshore Rescue were passing the scene as they had been attending to a separate incident in the area when they saw smoke.

They helped to get essential equipment and firefighters to and from the scene.