What Makes a “Good” Nature Reserve?

We actually got to walk round the reserve at Farlington today, a rather rare event, the reason was that we were accompanying a group from Sparsholt College. The walk could have been made in more pleasant conditions, the stiff south-east wind along with a temperature of about three degrees, without the windchill, kept us on the move. Seeing the birds well was a bit of a challenge too and many were flightier than usual, as they often are in windy weather. We did see good flocks of brent geese and at the Deeps the largest flock of black-tailed godwit I have seen for sometime, something like 150 birds. Also at the Deeps we saw colour-ringed brent goose R6GX, a bird ringed at Farlington as a juvenile female on 1st December 1999, her parents were R7GX and RNGJ, I don’t know if either of them is still alive.

The Sparsholt students had visited the London Wetlands Centre a few weeks ago, the contrast with Farlington was probably quite stark, it also illustrates the change that has taken place in the priorities for site management in the forty or so years between the start fo work on the two sites. Fifty years ago when Farlington was first made a reserve designations were few and the emphasis was very much on “saving sites”, from development, mismanagement or just general lack of them being valued for what they were. Sites were being lost regularly, so this was entirely reasonable. Since then most sites of high value for wildlife have been designated and now they are also required to be appropriately managed, so saving has become, at least theoretically unnecessary. Today the visitor is at the heart of many, if not most new reserves, so access and facilities to enhance the experience are key features.

Farlington is very much of a time, the reserve has no formal parking, hides, toilets or any of the other typical infrastructure of the modern nature reserve. When it was set up we just took over the management of the best bits for wildlife, leaving nowhere to put facilities without damaging the habitat, all of which is now protected. To run a modern reserve you actually need a good bit of peripheral area to put car parks, buildings etc on and we just don’ t have that at Farlington. I previously worked at Blashford Lakes, which is typical of what can be done on a less designated site with good access and room for infrastructure, all in all it makes for a much better reserve for visitors. However there is no doubt that Farlington Marshes is a hugely much more important site for wildlife and rarity of habitat than either Blashford Lakes or the London Wetland Centre, so it would be wrong to say it was not such a “good” reserve.

A good visitor reserve will be easy to access, have a good area of undesignated land around it and will probably be a wetland. Why a wetland? It is a matter of how easy it is to make new features and have them settle down and how easy it is to attract larger, attractive and easily seen wildlife. In fact this can quite easily be done on sites with little or no existing wildlife, so long as the geography will allow the right habitat to be created. The upside of this is that we can make a site of value to wildlife and visitors where there was almost nothing before, so a real win for conservation and support for the idea of looking after habitats. The downside is that more “difficult” habitats, ones where the wildlife is less obvious or the experience of visiting just more difficult begin to seem somehow less important, when they are probably the more important for the longterm survival of species and biodiversity.

Obviously both have important roles, conservation needs popular support and the Blashford Lakes of this world will attract people and garner support, they will do something for habitat and species conservation too, but we will always need sites like Farlington top deliver much of our conservation, even if they struggle to deliver the best visitor experience. Of course if you are very, very lucky you might just get a site where you an successfully do both.

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4 thoughts on “What Makes a “Good” Nature Reserve?

  1. Robertc
    Thanks for your thoughtful views about what makes a reserve. I found them very interesting. I follow you regularly and get a lot of enjoyment from your reports. We are only occasional bird watchers these days – Just got back from a couple of days at Pennington Marshes. We live in hope of seeing those elusive bitterns and bearded tits which seem to jump out at you every time you go near them!!!!!!

  2. I too have enjoyed your blogs enormously. I suggested to a not so long removed
    warden, that a site could be built at Broadmarsh, where the boat yard is and then visitors could migrate into Farlington along the path entering on the east. I know it would take vision and money, but a toilet would be a start. What do visitors think of Farlington’s lack of facilities in this day & age. We have been visiting over 42 years and find the lack of progress staggering.

    • Farlington has very particular problems when it comes to improving the facilities, the Wildlife Trust do not own anything on or near the site and so need the cooperation of other agencies and authorities to take a project forward. That said we have made a number of proposals and sought out partners to do this, including at Broadmarsh where we promoted the idea of an access project with a full range of facilities in partnership with Havant BC, some progress was made and it looked promising for a while but ultimately came to nothing. Even atempts to formalise the car parking at the western entrance have proved difficult, the Highways Agency seem unwilling to commit to anything that might restrict them in the future, which from their perspective perhaps is understandable.

      I agree that it would be good to make more of Farlington as a visitor reserve and that it has not really happened is not for want of proposals and effort over the years. As I was aluding to in the blog these issues would have best been address at the start when it would have been much easier to have added areas that would have given us the potential to control our access and provide facitilites, nowadays I think these would be seen as an essential part of setting up a reserve. None of this detracts from the conservation importance of Farlington of course, which remains very high, although it is frustrating that i tis so hard to get people to appreciate just how special it is!

      There are some improvements in the pipeline for this year, so look out for some new signage and a few other things, not a wholesale upgrade of the site but a step in the right direction we hope.

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