I recently visited Rye Harbour Nature Reserve on the East Sussex coast, within a couple of gull's wing flaps from the Kent border. There have been great things happening at Rye. What used to be Rye Harbour Farm is slowly being turned into saltmarsh, capable of supporting breeding and roosting birds. This is part of a grand 50-year plan called the 'Romney Marshes Living Landscape Partnership'. What is being constructed is an almost unbroken mosaic of wetland habitat stretching from Hastings in the west through to New Romney in the east, taking in Pett, Icklesham, Rye, Walland and Romney Marshes, Dungeness and Lade. Really exciting times.
When I was staying at Sandwich Bay back in June, I was similarly impressed by local plans for turning a large area of Worth Marshes back into exactly that - marshes. This would created a similar run of habitat all the way back westwards along the Stour Valley to Canterbury.
When I was wandering around the newly created paths at Rye, which criss-cross the new habitat, I was taken by the number of people using this facility. It's a big area, so it wasn't overcrowded. I most probably saw 150 people. Of those only 20 weilded optics. Most of them were out for a walk/cycle/jog in the fresh air or were being pulled along by dogs on leads. A few years ago I would have felt aggrieved that non-birders should gain access to 'our' reserves, no doubt scaring off the wildlife and not realising what wonders were before them. But now, I welcome them with open arms. These are the very people who will help maintain and preserve these habitats. As much as we want to bird and botanise over them so they want to spend their leisure time in the unspoilt outdoors. Airports, windfarms and superstores are us unpalatable to them as to us. So I say encourage them. Let us build cafes on our reserves, create shops that sell tea-towels, bird feeders and cheap optics and invite them in without the need for membership or any expectations of them. It doesn't matter if they don't know a Dunnock from a Dunlin, but if they feel they have a stake in the area they will be just as passionate about its protection. Our inclusion of them will create a small number of naturalists and an even larger number of supporters of the environment.
I'm now off to join David Attenborough in his frozen world - from an armchair of course. (Just got back from the ice caps - what a stunning programme. if you missed it you really should watch it)