Thousands of people have enjoyed and sought solace in beautiful countryside and stunning Wildlife Trust nature reserves over the last few weeks. But these places and other attractive beauty spots have taken a battering as the lifting of some lockdown rules coincides with warmer weather leading to a surge of people outdoors.
As a result, The Wildlife Trusts – a movement of 46 nature charities across the UK – are reporting a huge increase of damage to reserves and the wildlife that lives there. These include:
- Devastating fires across wild areas where portable BBQs have been used
- Ground-nesting birds and rare plants have been disturbed and trampled by people and dogs
- Antisocial behaviour – including littering, using wild places as outdoor toilets and vandalism have been widely reported.
Some Wildlife Trusts are describing antisocial behaviour on site, including abuse directed towards their staff as the worst they have ever known. The Wildlife Trusts have struggled to cope with the scale of the problems because many staff are furloughed.
Essex Wildlife Truts has experienced huge numbers of people on their nature reserves across the county, including those that are normally very quiet. While some sites and their wildlife are quite robust and can withstand an increase in footfall, others are less so and the associated disturbance, litter, vandalism and anti-social behaviour have been very challenging and time consuming for the conservation charity to manage. The Trust welcomes everyone to their sites to enjoy and learn about wildlife but request that visitors behave in a responsible way, taking their litter home, keeping their dogs under control, and respecting these special places for wildlife.
Essex Wildlife Trust are asking everyone to love and look after wildlife and wild places:
- Avoid BBQs and fires
- Take all your litter home
- Keep dogs on leads (check whether they're allowed on-site) and pick up dog mess
- Park considerately
- Cafes and toilets are shut – so limit the length of your visit and stay local
- Avoid trampling sensitive wildflower meadows
- Smile at our staff – we’re here to help you enjoy your visit!
Examples of issues experienced across Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserves include the following:
Littering, fly tipping and looting
There has been an unprecedented increase in both littering and fly tipping across many of the Trust’s nature reserves. Thefts have happened across multiple sites, with valuable conservation equipment being stolen.
Destruction of habitat and property
The Trust have seen multiple fires break out at their nature reserves, including at Langdon, Chafford, Woodham Fenn and Roding Valley and a suspected arson on a bird hide at Howlands Marsh.
Windows were broken in at Chafford Gorges and gates were ripped off their hinges at Langdon, leading to escaped livestock that help protect the SSSI. Fencing has also been damaged at Oliver Road Lagoons and Two Tree Island.
Disturbance to wildlife and nature
Sadly, within nature reserves the Trust found a buzzard that had been shot and a goose and a sheep were injured by an uncontrolled dog. Wildflowers have also been trampled, including rare orchids and oxlips at Westwood and Shadwell Wood nature reserves.
There has also been illegal fishing and camping at several nature reserves, including Pound Wood, Gunners Park, Aubrey Buxton and Langdon.
Irresponsible parking at several nature reserves is resulting in access paths to neighbouring houses and streets being blocked.