Lord Montagu in Beaulieu wildlife warning over Natural England footpath plan for New Forest
HAVENS for ground-nesting birds on the banks of the Beaulieu River could be lost if plans go ahead to open up miles of New Forest coastline to walkers and cyclists, Lord Montagu has claimed.
He issued the warning as he reflected on a “particularly unfortunate” incident at Gull Island when a number of rare chicks perished after their nesting site was disturbed by paddleboarders.
Under government plans published in 2017, Natural England aims to unlock a 2,700-mile right of way in the England Coast Path initiative.
Locally, the £270,000 project to improve access along the 35-mile stretch between Highcliffe and Calshot will focus on opening up routes along private land between Lymington and Thorns Beach, and woodland to the east of Beaulieu River.
Speaking at Beaulieu’s annual estate dinner, Lord Montagu said: “The whole of the New Forest, and many other parts of the countryside, endured extraordinary pressures during the early summer of 2020 when people tired of the lockdown were desperate to get out.
"Whilst this was is entirely understandable, there seemed to be an element who believed that because everything was still officially closed, there would be no one around to enforce the normal rules of responsible behaviour.”
He said the Beaulieu Estate had sought to respond to the increased recreational pressure with “positive measures” to better inform the public.
He added: “I am pleased to say at Park Shore, volunteers from the Solent bird aware group are present, as often as they can be to help inform visitors to the beach and stress the importance of keeping dogs on a lead.”
However, Lord Montagu said as demand for recreational activities such as walking, cycling and water based activities is likely to increase, it will become even more important to signpost visitors to areas that can take the pressure in order to protect very sensitive sites from disturbance.
He warned: “This is a point I would particularly like the access wing of Natural England to take notice of.
"If their route for the coastal path is put into effect as presently proposed, the ability to manage and protect sensitive sites close to the river, the condition of which is my responsibility, will be greatly compromised.”
A spokesperson for Natural England said: “We have been monitoring the exceptional surge in visits to the coast and countryside in the wake of easing lockdown restrictions last year: it is evidence of how much the public value places like the New Forest.
“Our coastal access proposals are developed in consultation with landowners and local experts, and we are currently reviewing proposals for the New Forest coast, from a nature conservation perspective."
“Natural England remains committed to working with landowners and others through initiatives like the England Coast Path to invest in providing good quality paths and other access opportunities where people can benefit from spending time in nature.”