DEVON AND Cornwall Police have launched a new project to prevent arson and illegal moorland fires across the region.

Project Hawkeye proved such a success last year on the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall, that it has now been rolled out.

The initiative will now cover Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor, parts of Exmoor and the North Devon Coast and on Woodbury Common, Honiton, Devon.

Last year Cornwall suffered 183 illegal grass fires and Devon 399, although that was a decline on the 582 recorded in 2003, said PC Dave Thomas of the Arson Task Force.

“Inappropriate, deliberately set fires cause untold economic and environmental damage in the countryside each year,” he said. “We do tend to suffer with illegal swaling.”

This is when land managers set fire to moorland to control gorse and regenerate the heather.

Although swaling is legal between Nov 1 and Mar 31 on lowland areas and Oct 1 and Apr 15 on uplands, it can cause terrible damage when performed at the wrong time.

The Arson Task Force is working with Crimestoppers and local fire services to encourage the public to confidentially report any illegal fires.

They plan to erect about 100 posters to raise public awareness, and request that landowners inform them before swaling to prevent unnecessary fire brigade call-outs.