Why can’t we have nature reserves for nature? The clue is in the name they are sites whose primary purpose is as a home for wildlife not for people! Roaming should be a privilege controlled by the needs of the species increasingly squeezed by our ever spreading influence. When we enter a stately home or museum we don’t expect to be given carte blanche to walk wherever we like and prod and poke the art and fittings. Given the population density in lowland Britain, it is just no longer tenable to allow unrestricted access onto remaining wild areas without it adversely affecting the species and habitats present. LNRs in most cases could be renamed Dog toilets. SSSIs especially those with breeding bird interest will be damaged by visitor pressure.
Twenty years ago as part of an on-going row about the appalling decline of Thursley Moat in Surrey (which came about because some moron decided to bring boot loads of bread every day to feed the ducks). The outcome was a massive increase in waterfowl and a drastic decline in the floristic and invertebrate interest (on an NNR) which persists to this day (despite the duck populations declining back to pre-feeding levels). A clip board wielding team was hired to ask visitors why they had come to the NNR. To use site as a dog toilet was not an option despite clearly being a prime reason for many visitors.
Recently the National Trust hatched a plan to relocate the car park at Witley Common (which is currently in pine woodland of no great value), onto adjacent open SSSI heathland. A classic case of wildlife second, people first, but in this case the people wouldn’t have even noticed they were being put first!
It is a joy to be able to walk off the beaten track in the Highlands and Islands, but these have very low population and visitor pressure compared to reserves in the lowlands, especially those within a few miles of conurbations.
The argument that people must connect with nature to care for it is at first sight a compelling one, especially as the city/ country divide keeps growing. However it is misleading, for it is utterly irresponsible to have policy shaped by the opinions of people (politicians) who don’t have the slightest idea about wildlife! Given a choice most people would happily walk through a scattered pine plantation or secondary woodland as can be seen at Esher Commons, and do not see any great value in the opening up and restoration of heathland, despite that being the reason for the areas designation as a SSSI. People are naturally conservative and what they have known for 5, 10 or 30 years is what they want to keep, and will often swear blind that the place has always been thus even when quite recent photos can prove otherwise.
As visitor pressure increases wildlife suffers, simply through the moron factor. Ponds will inevitably get Crassula, Floating pennywort, Goldfish, and more ducks. To the vast majority of the public a pond with these things in it is still wildlife!
A look at the parks in Greater London show how there is a clear critical mass below which the effects become catastrophic. The larger parks like Bushy, Richmond and Hampton Court Park still have superb biodiversity, but all have off limits areas from which the public are excluded (and are sufficiently large to have quiet corners even at peak visitor times), and these are particularly important for flower visiting species, and have the richest overall assemblages. Trying to sell biodiversity ahead of amenity has been an uphill struggle in the inner London parks such as Hyde, and Kensington Gardens, where rough bushy areas are likely to taken over by undesirables, and even open grassy areas are exploited by some very odd characters, which the Police seem reluctant to tackle.
As a civilised nation we devised a system to protect the best bits of our countryside which for several a decades was little more than a token gesture. Even when NCC got more teeth after 1981, direct deliberate damage declined but was replaced by decline through poor management and lack of proper monitoring. As a result we have the political cop out by employing an unscientific assessment process which sets out to make it seem like all is improving when the evidence for improvement at most sites is none existent! The weasel words ‘Unfavourable recovering’ is the greatest con in the history of conservation in Britain!