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Are we running out of space for nature?

Are we running out of space for nature?

Tuesday 05 May 2020

Are we running out of space for nature?


With islanders heading off the beaten track in search of quieter outdoor spaces, a local ecologist considers whether we should close-off certain areas to leave local wildlife in peace.

Piers Sangan hopes that Jersey locals could support such an idea to allow our wildlife to thrive...

"During these trying times around the world, we have seen feel-good stories of nature taking advantage of the global lockdown to push back. Dolphins in Venice’s canals, wild boar and deer entering deserted streets and evidence of greater gatherings at bird breeding grounds linked with less disturbance and visitors.

Piers Sangan

Pictured: Piers Sangan, Director of Sangan Island Conservation Ltd.

So, what about Jersey? Has the lockdown been able to give our wildlife and nature areas time to breath and take a break from anthropogenic disturbance? Do our woodlands and coastal paths lie deserted only to the sounds of bird calls?

Certainly, from the garden, the bird song is much more noticeable compared to previous years without the competing background noise of normal traffic and aviation activity. However, when out on our activity allowance, the view is not so ideal.

Footpaths are busy with people moving from side to side to avoid contact or starting to create new paths to avoid walking into others. With the need for social distancing at this time and also the desire for people to be outside and find something different to the regular walks, I have been noticing more ‘unofficial’ paths appearing across the countryside. More people are walking through fields or into meadows, all in the aim of finding some space to enjoy.

This raises the question of do we have the space to protect our countryside? With well-managed footpaths and organisations such as the National Park encouraging people to get out and explore all the nooks and crannies of our beautiful island, are we causing more harm than good? Is our need and assumed right for access to the countryside to the detriment of what we want to go and experience?

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Pictured: With social distancing, Piers has noticed more ‘unofficial’ paths appearing across the countryside.

With an ever-increasing population, and the need for outdoor spaces for people to enjoy, it may be time for some bold and probably unpopular decisions to be made to help protect our wildlife.

If you consider two of our island’s largest SSI’s (nature reserves), Les Landes and the sand dunes, they are riddled with a criss-cross of paths which are always busy with walkers, cyclists and dogs. Yet these habitats should be supporting a wide variety of wildlife and particularly at this time of year ground-nesting birds, which have been suffering huge declines with disturbance to breeding grounds being a primary factor.

Is it time we took some bold steps and start closing these large areas during the breeding seasons completely to allow our wildlife to have the space to breed and recover in peace? This would be much more effective for wildlife restoration than erecting a small fenced area which may or may not be used by the target species.

I would like to think and hope that Jersey islanders could support such an idea so that our wildlife, which we all cherish, can continue to thrive. The alternative is we slowly head towards a sterile landscape devoid of bird song and the buzz of insects because we have the ‘right’ to go outside."

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