Heaths to stay closed for rare birds

CONSERVATION officials in East Anglia are attempting to obtain a concession under the new right to roam legislation to allow private heaths to remain closed for part of the year in order to protect the breeding success of the rare stone curlew.

CONSERVATION officials in East Anglia are attempting to obtain a concession under the new right to roam legislation to allow private heaths to remain closed for part of the year in order to protect the breeding success of the rare stone curlew.

There are only about 250 pairs of stone curlews in the UK and about 150 pairs breed in this region – on arable land and heaths.

Under the new right to roam legislation private heaths will have to be made accessible for access by the public throughout the year.

But conservationists fear that this could cause disturbance to nesting stone curlews.


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"Even if the birds are only temporarily disturbed this could allow crows, weasels and other predators to take the eggs," said Nick Sibbert, assistant team leader in Suffolk for English Nature, the Government's wildlife protection agency.

It is approaching the Countryside Agency with a request that some areas be ruled out of bounds to ramblers during the stone curlew breeding season which can extend from March through to August.

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The move is being supported by the RSPB and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and "in principle" by the Ramblers Association as long as each closure is fully justified.

Most of the private heathland sites involved are in the Brecks area straddling the Suffolk-Norfolk border.

The Countryside Agency is currently still processing responses, including a number of objections, to the draft right to roam maps which will identify the areas of open countryside to be opened up to public access.

Under the new law about 12,500 acres of private heath in East Anglia could become accessible.

However, the agency does have the discretion to restrict access to protect livelihoods or wildlife.

Chris Durdin, RSPB spokesman, said English Nature's move was being strongly supported.

"Stone curlews are very shy and research has shown that they are less likely to nest in areas which are disturbed," he said.

The society has for some years financed a project which, with the help of landowners in the Brecks, monitors and protects stone curlew nests on arable land - vulnerable to being destroyed by agricultural machinery.

"If we want to establish a sustainable stone curlew population in the long term, without having to use intervention, we need to protect the existing heathland sites and, indeed, create more heathland," Mr Durdin added.

Jane Burch deputy regional director for the Country Land and Business Association, said there were hopes that restrictions on access would be approved for wildlife reasons and to protect livelihoods.

"The aim of the new law is not to harm livelihoods or wildlife and the Countryside Agency does have discretion in helping to protect these interests. We hope it will use this discretion sensibly," she said.

John Andrews, spokesman for the Suffolk group of the Ramblers Association, said: "We accept this in principle because we are very keen on nature conservation but we would want each closure to be fully justified."

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