Just when we thought we had the management of our Arcot Grasslands sorted out, and we had grazing in place for the first time in fifteen or so years, we’ve just had a couple of weeks of ‘fun and games’.
It all began with a phonecall from the local golf course. A message about some run away ponies….. The staff at the golf course very kindly managed to round up the escapees and move them back onto their grazing pastures but we were left try to work out what had happened. A walk around the boundary fence showed that three field gates had been left open and the ponies had simply walked out onto the golf course. Of course we couldn’t risk this happening again – the proximity of the Arcot Grasslands to both main dual carriageways and railway lines made things even more urgent. So we had to lock the gates. Signs went up everywhere to explain why we were having to ‘restrict’ access in the short-term, but that we would be adding additional access infrastructure as soon as we could. A few days later the boundary fence was cut in two places – fortunately this time the ponies and cattle stayed put.
So several days of additional work and expense left us wondering whether we could manage both nature and people together at this site. The Arcot Grasslands are after all a private site with no legal right of public access. Would things be easier if stopped public access completely?? Of course the answer is a resounding NO! Many in the local community have used Arcot for quiet and non-damaging access for many years, and even if not visiting the site to observe wildlife, clearly enjoy the nature and landscape of the area. In addition quite a few members of the local community also help with volunteer tasks and/or keep a general eye on the site and report and problems/issues. Following on from these acts of damage I spent a morning at Arcot, speaking to anyone who was using the site, and everyone I spoke to was upset with what had happened.
The benefits of letting people enjoy nature at Arcot clearly outnumber the problems caused by what is probably one or two individuals. So we have added a couple of additional stiles near where the gates were left open and the fences cut, and hopefully this will prevent similar acts happening again. We will also continue to put up notices explaining what we are doing and why. Hopefully, we may soon be in a position to work more closely with the local communities around Arcot, and ideally we can increase the use of the grasslands for sympathetic uses, which in turn will put off more anti-social activities.
So of course there is a place for people in our most important wildlife areas, and sites such as Arcot which are very near large urban settlements clearly present a huge opportunity for people to enjoy nature. But we do need to engage more with people to get them onside with the work we are doing to look after our wildlife, and we will just work around the small minority who just don’t seem to care.