VANDALS burned down a birdwatchers’ hide on West Canvey Marsh, causing more than £1,000 of damage.

Firefighters were called to the RSPB nature reserve in response to reports of a grass fire at the marsh just before 7pm on Tuesday.

Nine Canvey-based firefighters tackled the flames, but were unable to save the wooden structure.

The fire, said to have been started deliberately, spread from the hide to the surrounding field and it took crews more than an hour to get the burning grass under control.

Michael Poole, the reserve’s assistant warden, said: “It’s very frustrating. We’ve had a fire in the playground before and they have tried to burn down the hides.

“This time, the hide is totally destroyed and it is going to cost thousands to repair the damage.

“Luckily, one of our volunteers was driving past just as the fire brigade was coming on to the marsh.”

Volunteers and wardens spent yesterday assessing damage to the hide, one of three on the site.

The others were unaffected.

Police are investigating.

Canvey councillor Dave Blackwell, a keen wildlife photographer, said: “The marsh is one of the best places for people to enjoy.

“It’s disgraceful. What do they get out of it? They just spoil everyone else’s enjoyment. I’m disgusted. It’s so easy to get into and there is nothing the RSPB can do.

“I’m dismayed. I go over a lot to take photos. That hide is used a lot in the winter when the migrant birds come in.”

Fellow councillor Ray Howard said: “I only hope if it has been deliberately set alight, these people are caught, named and shamed. It’s just ridiculous.

“What can you do when you get people who just don’t want to see our society have these facilities?”

The site is the venue for many outdoor events, but the RSPB has confirmed the fire will not affect the next, an outdoor screening of the movie, Rio 2, on Saturday, August 30.

VOLUNTEERS rushed to the scene after seeing the ten-ft-high flames from Canvey Way.

Rob Hardy, 64, of Wittem Road, was driving home from work when he saw flames and smoke.

Mr Hardy, an RSPB volunteer for six years, said: “I saw the flames from the road and they were quite high. I was going to have a closer look and call the fire brigade, but somebody had already done it.

“It was a real worry to see flames that size coming from the reserve. If it had been dryer, or the wind had been in a different direction, it could have been even bigger.”

Fellow volunteer Ian White, 65, of Stanley Road, helped firefighters get across the reserve. He said: “There was a lot of smoke and the firefighters couldn’t get their large vehicle on the reserve and had to send for an off-road vehicle.

“It’s a crying shame. So much money and effort goes into keeping this place going. It’s a charity and relies on donations and grants. Then this happens. It’s very disappointing.”

THE RSPB’s 46-acre £2million nature reserve has been targeted several times by vandals since it opened to the public in 2010.

In August 2011, the children’s park on the site was hit by fire which caused £1,000 of damage, by wrecking a 20ft crawl tunnel.

A few months before, vandals caused more than £1,000 of damage to two bird hides, tearing off the wooden panels of the building, smashing surrounding fences and ripping down public information boards.