Love and look after it!

The Wildlife Trusts appeal to people’s love of nature following last weekend’s wildfires, vandalism, littering and disturbance to wildlife

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.

Paul Learoyd, CEO of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, says:

“Some of our most precious sites are seeing a massive increase in visitor numbers, and the amount of litter is very upsetting. The quiet spell during lockdown was an amazing period for our reserves. Wildlife took advantage and enjoyed the tranquillity. We even had wildlife nesting in places they’ve never nested before – on footpaths and at usually busy nature reserves.

"In the last couple of weeks since the opening of the countryside, there has been shocking levels of abuse at our sites – litter, human waste and vandalism. It’s unpleasant for people who want to enjoy the countryside and potentially harmful for wildlife.

"We’re continuing to ask visitors to take their little home with them, and to respect the countryside, especially when visiting sensitive sites like our nature reserves.”

The Wildlife Trusts are asking everyone to love and look after wildlife and wild places by:

  • No BBQs and fires
  • Take all your litter home
  • Where dogs are allowed, keep dogs on short leads and pick up dog mess
  • Park considerately
  • Cafes and toilets are shut – so limit the length of your visit and stay local
  • Don’t trample on sensitive wildflower meadows
  • Smile at our staff and volunteers – we’re here to help you enjoy your visit

On Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves there have been incidents at scale never witnessed before. These include:

  • An increase in littering including tissues, wipes, nappies, food wrappers, bottles and cans. There is also a new phenomenon of human waste; this is being found even on nature reserves where toilets have never been provided
  • BBQ use has been common across reserves with many left to burn the ground beneath and immediately surrounding them.  There have been wildfires at the Forestry Commission’s Laughton Forest and widespread fires at Hatfield Moors in South Yorkshire which is part of the Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve
  • Irresponsible parking on verges and in front of gates
  • An increase in prohibited activities at nature reserves including swimming in lakes. Swimming potentially disturbs nesting birds but it also dangerous for the swimmer where the water with cold and there are deep, steep sides and submerged vegetation and other hazards
  • Cycling and jogging has also increased on a number of nature reserves where there isn’t sufficient space on paths for multiple recreational uses
  • Signs about Covid-19 and responsible behaviour have been slashed and torn down, locked bird hides forced open and fencing removed
  • Rules and signage around respecting wildlife and nesting birds has been ignored 

Craig Bennett, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“The Wildlife Trusts have more nature reserves than McDonalds has restaurants in the UK, but our precious wildlife sites are bad places to hold a BBQ. These wonderful wild places are vital local havens for people to enjoy with family and friends, to walk, rest and see nature. Our natural heritage is priceless and so important for us all – for our health and happiness – but it is fragile.

“We’re appealing to everyone to love and look after it. Everyone is welcome but please respect our wild places, other visitors and people who work there.”

Editors Notes

Incidents have been reported by Wildlife Trusts across the UK:

The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside received hundreds of messages from angry and upset nature lovers as two fires caused severe damage to large hectares of moors above Lancashire and Greater Manchester, where the Trust is working to restore peatland habitat. Fire fighters from Lancashire and Greater Manchester, as well as teams from United Utilities and Bolton Mountain Rescue have tackled the blaze which has destroyed nests and beautiful moorland habitat. An increase in visitors and litter, combined with the dry weather means there are fears the fires could reignite.

They also made the gruesome discovery of a lapwing and its chicks which had been savaged to death by a dog on Little Woolden Moss in Salford.

Staffordshire Wildlife Trust has extinguished smouldering BBQ trays on their reserves preventing fires from spreading. Incidents of fly tipping have also increased recently across several of the Trust’s nature reserves, including Hem Heath Woods, in Stoke-on-Trent, and Gentleshaw Common, on the southern edge of Cannock Chase. A well-used bird hide at Doxey Marshes, in Stafford, has been targeted with graffiti.

Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust estimates that it has seen as many reported cases of vandalism, trespass, littering and other damaging behaviour on its nature reserves in the past two months as it normally receives in a year. The Trust’s bird hide at Stocker's Lake Nature Reserve, near Rickmansworth, was set on fire and the Trust evicted a group of illegal campers who were causing damage and disturbance to Old Park Wood Nature Reserve near Harefield. At Tring Reservoirs the hot weekend weather saw visitors swimming in the reservoirs which is highly dangerous because the water is too cold and lead to drowning.  

Dorset Wildlife Trust has experienced two heath fires this spring, on Winfrith Heath and Upton Heath Nature Reserves.  A fire at any time of the year is devastating for wildlife, but spring is such a key time with the breeding season being well underway for many species of wildlife. DWT has also experienced fly-tipping and fly-grazing during this time.

Essex Wildlife Trust has seen an increase in water users after the relaxation of lockdown laws, with many people enjoying the warm weekends along the Essex estuaries. However, this has dramatically increased the disturbance and pressure on Essex’s beach rare birds, which are currently nesting, and raising their young along the county’s coastline. The Trust is working with the RSPB and has issued more information for visitors advising them how to avoid the sensitive nesting areas.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has seen large groups of young people and families visited Testwood Lakes Nature reserve in Totton ignoring social distancing and littering. There were social media reports of youths threatening each other with broken bottles and another of someone nearly drowning while trying to rescue a dog.   Local people were egged in their gardens and cattle who graze the reserve chased across the reserve. More than 20 bin-liners full of rubbish were collected from Testwood on Monday morning. Testwood Lakes website states: Please be aware that there is always the potential for blue-green algae in the water at Testwood Lakes nature reserve. Please do not swim or let your dog swim in the water. Blue-green algae can pose a serious health risk through both ingestion and inhalation.