Letter: I have reservations about NFDC’s nature reserves decision against the Friends of Ballard Water Meadows proposal
The decision reached by the New Milton Town Council’s amenities committee by a single vote against the Friends of Ballard Water Meadows proposal, to establish two new nature reserves, does indeed seem like the slap in the face (A&T 15th Sep) mentioned by Bob Lord.
Mr Lord is a highly respected conservationist who worked professionally for many years in that field before retirement. I have read his full and detailed proposals. He put forward an extremely convincing and persuasive case that Ballard Water Meadows and Barton Common should be designated as formal local nature reserves.
The group’s many conservation volunteers (of which I am not a member) has been helping the town clerk and council for many years to look after both these appealing local wildlife and community sites. Some 15 years or so ago, Milford-on-Sea Parish Council was asked a similar question by the local conservation and wildlife volunteer groups to declare two sites (Studland Common and the Pleasure Grounds) as local nature reserves.
I remember the first question the groups were asked by a forward-thinking parish council, which was: what support do you have for such a declaration? A household public consultation was arranged by the council and a massive 88% (899 residents from a total of about 4,800) who responded agreed that the council should push ahead with declarations. Thus two reserves were quickly and efficiently declared. The number of individual responses received then remains to this day the highest returns for a Milford public consultation ever, and shows the local support that wildlife and habitats deserve.
Should a public consultation also have been the town council’s first consideration? I think it should. Unfortunately, a ‘single vote’ by one committee member determined the negative outcome on behalf of the whole of the town’s c11,877 residents. Hardly democracy in action, so I think I would demand a recount!
I also mused over the town council’s solicitor report which appears to have given a simple response intimating that the council should be warned off going down the nature reserve route. In fact the council minutes reflect that the solicitor had added “any conflict would probably be minor as the parcels of land are in reality a responsibility rather than an asset”. The NFDC landscape architect who also attended the meeting was said to be ambivalent, but had added that she could not think of any disadvantages!
Another red herring appears to be that someone who should known better said she was not sure if the new proposed designations would entail dogs having to be kept on a lead. Dogs, Dexter cattle and visitors to Studland Common and the Pleasure Grounds local nature reserves live quite happily alongside one another with no restrictions of dogs having to be kept on a lead.
If I was Mr Lord I think I would be asking to see copies under his Freedom of Information Act rights as to what was actually asked by the council of their solicitor and a copy of the solicitor’s full response, evidently warning the town council off from designating the two sites as local nature reserves.