Skylarks underfoot as ‘gates are opened’?

Sky Lark 007

 

The delightful image above sent by Bryan Wainwright shows a fledgling Skylark.  Sharp eyed Bryan in his own words “shood the bird to safety” as it froze and remained motionless in the hope of danger passing it by by.  Nearby I watched as a Redshank adopted distraction tactics to try to ensure the safety of its offspring.  These strategies offer an insight into the risks posed to young birds if Natural England proceed with their proposal and open the gates on their 87 National Nature Reserves across the country to Open Access.

 

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The observations reminded me of an incident a couple of years back when management work (in the bird breeding season) was being undertaken to facilitate ‘disabled access’ on Hatfield Moors.  A pair of woodlark, a Schedule 1 (WCA 1981) species were on territory but as judge and jury of impact of their work and a limited window of availability of men with machines Natural England decided to displace the birds and disrupt their breeding.

There are many papers offering good case studies where increased access and dog walkers have had negative impact upon ground nesting birds particularly.

Recreational use of forests and disturbance of wildlife is a useful literature review detailing case studies undertaken in forests since 1990.  Two species subject to studies, nightjar and woodlark are key species on Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI and two species likely to be impacted upon by increased recreational use being encouraged by Natural England.

What is the impact of public access on the breeding success of ground nesting and cliffnesting birds? Is a Systematic Review and another resource worthy of a read. It synthesises the findings of a number of studies of disturbance to nightjar (albeit on southern heathlands) and it does not offer much hope for us here when the gates are opened.

A Review of Disturbance Distances in Selected Bird Species is a Scottish Natural Heritage commissioned report undertaken in 2007 and it too makes depressing reading in terms of likely significant effect on the productivity of breeding nightjar the SPA interest of Thorne and Hatfield Moors.

Already there has been one dog attack and a member of the public bitten recently.   The victim then subsequently reported the incident to the police.  That bite was at a level of a childs face but it was dismissed as a one off and no further action taken.

A case might be made, certainly here on Thorne and Hatfield Moors that there already exists de facto open access.  What’s wrong with that?  Why mend something which isn’t broken, why spend diminishing budgets on access maintenance rather than ensuring that the sites achieve ‘favourable condition status’ as ‘natural jewels in the public crown’, as best examples of National NATURE Reserves, and European Natura 2000 sites?  They are not countryparks or themeparks they are National NATURE Reserves.

Does this matter after all nature is a resource, The State of Nature, something that the ‘Welsh bard’ Iolo Williams made an empassioned plea to us all to do something about before it is too late for our grandchildren to inherit.   See also the early warning offered here.  In a single lifetime the wilderness that was Thorne Moors is now surrounded on all points of the compass with industrial clutter which can be seen and heard if you stand on the viewing platform in the middle of the moor.  No longer can a visitor easily hear the drumming of the snipe or the churring of the enigmatic nightjar they are all too frequently drowned out by cheap holiday flights overhead or wind blown noise pollution from the neighbouring industry or road systems.

In principle the proposal seems not an unreasonable one but there has, in the view of the Executive been a lack of open and transparent public involvement.  The consultation, if the exercise could be described that, has been conducted outwith the public gaze and with organisations whose focus appears other than nature conservation.  There has not been, to our knowledge been any open meeting to which the public have been invited.

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Must what is left of England’s largest lowland raised mire be ‘moor’ eroded and lost to local people for the benefit of short term gesture politics?  What would the late Wm Bunting have made of this?  He would certainly have challenged the notion that NE as judge and jury could not avoid legislative compliance.  Bunting would certainly challenged the fact that NE be allowed to assess the project which they themselves are primary proposers.  One might be forgiven for drawing the analogy with MPs designing their own expense system or failed bankers expectation that the public purse will fund bail outs?

A Senior Director of NE has offered to attend a meeting but that was a couple of weeks ago and we are still awaiting a response in terms of date ahead of any definitive announcement in respect of dedication.

Watch this space and we’ll keep you updated.  If you’d like to know more then please contact us via execsec@thmcf.org

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