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...