A MULTI-MILLION pound project to restore the historic Rivington Terraced Gardens is "under threat" because of the Winter Hill fire.

The moorland blaze, which has been burning for more than a week, has scorched an area measuring five miles and the flames crept up to the boundary of the gardens.

Since the ignition of the fire last Thursday, volunteers have been working overtime to both ensure the Grade II-listed site is protected and to support the firefighters in their efforts.

The work has included the chopping down of 300 trees on the site close to Belmont Road, after the burning peat underground destroyed the roots.

An exhausted Andrew Suter, heritage projects manager for Groundwork, which is overseeing the £4.2million restoration project, said it had been a tough week for the staff but said concerns still remain for the wellbeing of the treasured gardens.

He said: "We have got £4.2million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and this whole project is under threat.

"The gardens are 100 years old. Some of the plants and structures in there will be irreplaceable. It is a Grade II-listed garden and people absolutely love the place.

"We feel a huge responsibility but we have an amazing group of volunteers and we have bene doing everything we possibly can to reduce the risk.

"Since it has started it has been very long days for both me and the team. We are trying to play a supporting role and do the best we can."

Belmont Road is currently acting as a fire-break between the edge of Rivington Terraced Gardens and the main area affected by the fire.

But because the peat, which is about three or four feet underground, has been burning, 300 trees at the gardens' boundary have had to be cut down.

Mr Suter said: "All of the roots have been burnt because the peat is still burning. So the roots of the trees have been burned.

"They could effectively go up in flames and they would throw ash into the gardens, at which point the fire would spread. So we have taken out all those dead trees."

The volunteers have also been helping out by patrolling areas and keeping an eye out for grass fires.

On a couple of occasions, the United Utilities helicopter has been called over to dump water on land close to the gardens.

Mr Suter spoke of his frustration at further fires being deliberately lit in other parts of the region, including Healey Nab, and the fact that the Winter Hill blaze could possibly have been an arson incident.

He said: "It is incredibly frustrating and really worrying to think that one individual could destroy everything we are trying to create and preserve for everybody. I can not believe the stupidity."

The volunteers have been telling people to stay way from the gardens and the surrounding area cordoned off by police but there have been instances where that has been ignored.

Mr Suter said there were two lads who had climbed a fence and come within 30 or 40 feet of the flames to take pictures.

Volunteers were driving past at the time and they ordered the two teenagers to get into the back of the truck and took them back down the hill.

Mr Suter added: "We would like to thank everybody for their support and continuing understanding. Our social media pages have had over 300,000 people messaging us and 99.9 per cent of that has been incredibly positive."

He also wished to thank Oakwood Tree Services, which helped the team to cut down the dead trees.

The gardens will remain completely closed as long as the firefighters are battling to defeat the fire.