Norfolk Wildlife Trust has this morning removed a bike course that was illegally constructed at NWT Syderstone Common during the lockdown period.
As a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the area is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act to safeguard the habitat and species present. No excavation or construction of structures is permitted without prior consent from Natural England and it was therefore not only damaging but also illegal.
Norfolk Wildlife Trust owns the nature reserve, which is of exceptional importance for wildlife. The entire nature reserve is a SSSI because it supports one of the last remaining areas of lowland heathland and acid grassland in the area. It is also home to one of the last remaining inland locations of the endangered natterjack toad.
While Syderstone is private land owned by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, access is provided for walkers across the whole site for visitors to enjoy the heathland and wildlife found here. Visitors on cycles and horseback are able to access via three restricted byways which cross the site.
Director of Nature Conservation at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Kevin Hart said:
“Although we appreciate the increased need for outdoor leisure activities during recent months across the county, we cannot allow this type of unauthorised, unconsented development to take place on one of our nature reserves.
“The construction of a cycle track with timber ramps and excavated berms and jumps, a covered barbecue area and excavation for a lined pond has placed a significant liability on the land owner. The site is designated a SSSI and so these constructions contravene the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) 1981 and are therefore illegal.
“But there are further concerns with how safe the structures and jumps are for users as this is not a professionally designed and constructed track. Norfolk Wildlife Trust has a duty of care to people visiting its nature reserves and must do everything reasonable to prevent foreseeable accidents.
“We know this removal will have upset people who were keen to see it stay but it is in the wrong location, being built on a protected nature reserve. A conservation charity cannot be expected to take on the liability or the additional responsibility and cost of monitoring and safety checking the structures to ensure they are safe to use.”
Syderstone Common is a registered common but does not have any active registered common rights. As well as the endangered natterjack toads, the site is excellent for reptiles and amphibians, with seven species recorded. Woodlark occasionally breed, and other notable breeding birds include lesser whitethroat.
30 July 2020
A further statement from our Chief Executive, Pamela Abbott:
Norfolk Wildlife Trust is a wildlife conservation organisation with a duty to its members who sign up for the protection of rare species and habitats and their quiet enjoyment by visitors.
We have taken on board the comments and questions we have received since the removal of the illegal bike course yesterday from NWT Syderstone Common. Whilst we have had support for our action, I appreciate that there have also been several questions about the rights over the nature reserve.
In relation to the the ownership of the Common, we would like to assure people that we have the conveyance for the land from 1984, showing NWT has good title and the land is also registered in our name with the land registry. The Common Land register does not list any registered rights holders for the land.
In the past there has been a serious problem with fly-tipping which we have dealt with over several years and have also paid for removal of items. Much valuable staff time is lost dealing with fly tipping when we should be undertaking conservation management work. We ask anyone who notices fly tipping to notify us as soon as possible: our team in West Norfolk look after many hundreds of hectares of habitat and so unfortunately cannot visit each nature reserve on a weekly basis. We do ask all visitors take their rubbish home with them, to protect the area and its wildlife. We hope that this won’t change as a result.
I do wish to reiterate what we have said to date. The whole of the nature reserve is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The woodland has its own biodiversity value and is a component of the SSSI as a whole.
With the site being SSSI, any structures are illegal without consent from Natural England. Even if that had not been the case here, as rightly pointed out by some local people, the presence of structures and allowing cycling would present an ongoing liability issue for the Trust as the landowners. A conservation charity cannot be expected to take on that liability or the additional responsibility for monitoring the activity and ensuring safety relating to the activities.
Additionally, having a bike trail with apparatus changes the land from a nature reserve to a recreational site, which can negatively impact NWT’s Defra funding: money that is used to carry out conservation work across the whole SSSI.
We knew this removal would upset people who were keen to see it stay. It is extremely regrettable that staff involved have received abusive comments and there have been threats of further illegal activity. Such a decision in a community is never easy but everyone at this charity is seeking to do their best for wildlife and people and I would ask that our need and legal obligation to protect this valuable nature reserve is respected.