Huffing, puffing, ranting

I have been engaged in a lot of huffing and puffing around the local patches for little birding reward - however, the inverts have saved recent days, with a male Lesser Emperor at Spynes Mere (Holmethorpe) yesterday afternoon, and a smart Dewick's Plusia (above) in the garden MV this morning. This is the third Banstead record in 12 months, leading me to suspect that it is now established in the area.

I haven't had a rant on here for a while, as the solidity of my inner calm defences has been strong enough to deflect all of the negative bullets and arrows that have been fired my way, but yesterday's visit to Holmethorpe tipped me over the edge. For those of you that have not visited this group of sand pits before, let me give you a bit of background. The area has been plundered for sand and Fuller's Earth for many years. There are two substantial waterbodies, Mercer's Lake and Mercer's West. The former used to be viewable from a footpath that runs around its circumference, but a massive planting programme in the late 1970s has now resulted in the water being almost impossible to see because of the number of mature trees, save for an area at the extreme eastern end, and this is only clear because of a sailing club HQ. The latter waterbody is hidden from view - bar one high gate, choked with brambles - by fencing, fencing and more fencing, plus, for good measure, unchecked vegetation. It is a private site, but never the less, frustrating for the local birders. 

Also part of the complex is Spynes Mere, a moderate sized flooded excavation that was created just over 20 years ago. It is managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust. It was then fenced off, fenced again, and then, in-between these fence lines, planted with tens of thousands of hawthorns, guelder roses, etc, etc. Where once you could look out across small reed beds, bulrush marshes and sandy spits and islands, you now stare into a wall of vegetation, metres high. Last year the trust created a viewing point and spent thousands of pounds on constructing a bank for Sand Martins to breed in. I stood at this viewpoint yesterday and could see a fraction of the water, none of the bulrushes, little reed and hardly any of the sand bank. Yet again, excessive planting and a lack of its management has created a place that you cannot easily observe birds. I could mention several other areas - The Moors, Watercolours Lagoons, Glebe Lake - all suffer from inaccessibility and very poor viewing. It must be said that not all of these areas are under SWT jurisdiction, which means that if the SWT (supposedly champions of wildlife) are unwilling, or unable, to manage the habitat that they control, what chance have these other areas of getting any sympathetic management?

The SWT and Holmethorpe have, in my opinion, a so-so history. There have been times when there has been, without doubt, willing on their part to improve the habitat and a little nod towards accessibility for the public. But all of these good works just go to pot if they are then left alone. To bar entry on 'health and safety' grounds or to minimise disturbance is all well and good, but if the protected area is then unseeable and unrecordable, where is the willingness to engage, inspire and encourage the general public?

On my walk yesterday I was herded along narrow footpaths, choked with nettles, hawthorn, brambles, barbed wire and fence posts. When I did get to one of the very, very few gaps in the vegetation (below) my views were restricted. I'm not advocating a team turn up with strimmers and chainsaws tomorrow - this is a situation that requires careful planning, major clearances in the winter and constant checking (and actions taken when necessary) each and every year. If we wish future generations to engage with nature, we cannot lock it away behind fences and hide it from view because of some over-zealous landscape planting of twenty years which has remained largely unchecked. It may be a question of finances, but if it is, then prioritisation should be given to 'hearts and minds' projects that ensure that the coming generations want to identify and engage with nature. And what a better way to start than by making sure that when a family walk around Spynes Mere, or The Moors, they can see the Kingfisher as it flashes past, count the Lapwings on the sandy spit and watch the breeding Sand Martins as they feed over the water. They can't do any of that at the moment...


Ric said…
Though I would be prepared to put my brush-cutter and chainsaws to use in these situations, I wonder if use of a drone would be more appropriate. Both make noise but the latter would be less destructive.
Gibster said…
It's been a while since I was last at either Mercers or Speyne's Mere (ie probably about 15 years) but even then I could see that the plastc-collared plantings would become a problem. It used to be a great site back in the day, but as you say fences have been erected and screens have been planted. I have it on very good authority that SWT stands for *tupid *anker *osswits, I'm entirely inclined to believe my sources. Buy in a management regime from banking backgrounds, one that understands budgets and percentages but who see wildlife as something to be somehow monetised and you're onto a clear loser. Or rather the wildlife is. Surrey Wildlife (Mis)Trust are a disgrace to the very name they use. They should be held accountable for their utterly disgraceful actions over the past two decades. You have my permission to tweet any of that as far and as wide as you like, Steve. They are a complete and utter disgrace and I just wish they realised it just as much as the rest of us do.

Disclaimer - their Atlas series is brilliant. Other than that, they are a complete and utter disgrace.
Derek Faulkner said…
Most of the various conservation groups seem to have a problem with on-going annual management of sites these days. It seems to be a case of setting a place up and then leaving it to it's own devices thereafter in the name of re-wilding habitat but in too many cases re-wilding seems to be an excuse for doing nothing. Limited resources seem to be concentrated on aquiring new sites all the time, rather than spending time and money on the needs of existing sites. Last night on the news there was concern about the shortage of timber for the construction of new housing and it was agreed that a lot more planting of trees is needed - so more decent habitat will disappear.
Gavin Haig said…
I can't help contrasting what I read here with the situation on my old patch at Seaton. The Seaton Wetlands are an E Devon District Council enterprise, rather than county wildlife trust, but the overall management has focused primarily on engagement with the public, and the reserve's well-deserved reputation reflects that.

Your tale of woe is so depressing, Steve. Makes me wonder what the other county WTs are like...
Steve Gale said…
Ric - yes, a drone with camera would be good to see what is actually present on the pits!

Seth - I often say the same, that apart from the SWT publications there isn't a lot to recommend it. Even these have dried up...

Derek - talking of trees, something that has been happening here in Surrey is for 'ash die-back' clearing to be an excuse to fell much more besides.

Gav - the Kent birders are currently giving the KWT a good kicking on Twitter.
Paul Trodd said…
Hi Steve, its the same down here too! Currently Dungeness RSPB reserve has most of the hides condemned and closed with little hope of renewals any time soon, while two new substitute viewpoints are like wind tunnels affording little or no protection from the elements. As a result most of the best bits of ARC, Dengemarsh lake and Burrowes pit cannot now be viewed. The hayfields all need the top 6" scraping off and the tern rafts need bringing in for the winter, covered over and not put out again until late May when the terns arrive, that way it`ll keep the blessed Herring and Lesser Blacked Backed Gulls off them. I could rant on, but I can feel my blood pressure rising! All the best, Paul
Hello Steve, I almost think it's a failing per se of Wildlufe Trusts. It's the same up here in Lancashire, under-managed sites with little opportunity to view or engage with the wildlife. When I talk to friends and colleagues in other parts of the country, they all report the same.
I think one major issue is that the Wildlife Trusts never refuse to take on any bits of land, and consequently they end up with lots of reserves that they can't manage, with little or no access. I think they should take on less reserves, and that way they might have half a chance of then managing what they've got.If you compare them with the RSPB for example, the RSPB have far less reserves (up here they do), and I think because of that, on the whole, they are able to manage them better.
Steve Gale said…
Paul - the reserve has been a place where birders and members alike have been ignored for too long. I voted by resigning my RSPB membership.

Seamus - the RSPB might be doing it right on some of their reserves, but certainly not on others! Your observation on the Wildlife Trusts is interesting.
Unknown said…
Well I'm not the greatest fan of SWT either after they appointed the bloke from the Countryside alliance as the boss years ago (he's gone now).
But I have to say you are being unfair. I worked as a volunteer at Wisley and Ockham in the winters for the best part of 20 years until the cuts. The Tory austerity filtered down to Surrey county council and, Surrey county council cut the grant to SWT to nil. Negotiation followed and there was a phase in/out. As far as I can tell they are still really cash strapped. The volunteer prog is now a shambles, they tried to make money from firewood and beef too. Now the countryside alliance bloke has gone I don't suppose there is anyone who works there who isn't committed to improving things. They may not be successful always I admit but given the money I am sure they would be happy to do more.
Factor said…
I have also heard that Surrey County Council have massively cut the annual grant of Surrey Wildlife Trust and many people who worked for the Trust have been laid off. It would appear more the fault of the Council than the Trust itself I think.

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