Being a Responsible Consumer

I visited Fishlake Meadows first thing this morning, the sedge and reed warblers were singing as were cuckoo, cetti’s warbler, blackcap and garden warbler along with much, much more. The sheer abundance of birdlife was wonderful to experience. I was delighted to meet a few others , also out to enjoy this wonderful site.

As many will know Fishlake has recently been added to the Wildlife Trust list of reserves following many years of abandonment, during which time the area changed from agricultural land into a fabulous wetland. It is probably fair to say that there was something of a free for all on the site for a few years with reports of shooting, unlicenced angling and various other activities. These all had an impact upon the wildlife that could use the area, meaning that some species stayed and others did not. One of the functions of the new nature reserve is to improve the access and opportunities to see wildlife, whilst also reducing disturbance.

Fishlake from canal path

A view across Fishlake Meadows from the Barge Canal path.

Being a formal reserve means that there is the chance to make improvements for visitors and manage the habitat so as to maintain the most interesting and rarest elements. This will inevitably lead to an increase in visitors and the need to control access, both for the sake of the wildlife and the visitors.

Access to nature is increasingly being recognised as of great value to human wellbeing, but we need to be aware that this access is not without cost to the nature. However careful we are every visit to see wildlife will have an impact, at this time of year we will not avoid disturbing nesting birds, even if briefly as we walk by and this is but one example. This applies at least as much to dedicated wildlife watchers as the general public. In fact keen watchers of wildlife can be the worst offenders, putting a desire to see or photograph something above its welfare. Worst of all the desire to get close often applies most to the rarest species, the very ones that should be given the greatest space.

Some bird species are afforded special protection (under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) when nesting or potentially nesting, meaning that it is actually an offence to disturb them or photograph them where they might be breeding. I have been asked a number of times recently where people can go to photograph kingfisher, my answer at present is probably nowhere. Kingfisher are one of these special protected species and photographing them near a nest without a licence is illegal, in fact it is a criminal offence. It is far better to wait until late summer when the young are independent. There are many such protected species, including some that might surprise a lot of people, such as Cetti’s warbler and barn owl. Many of us carry cameras now and the temptation to get a shot of one of these when we should not is great. There are lots of great pictures of them and our desire just puts the birds under stress and at increased risk, there is no right to get a picture, or even a “better” view. The Rare Bird Alert website has a very useful page on this subject photographing schedule 1 birds

Sadly recent incidents at several Trust reserves have seen people straying into protected areas or just too close to rare species to get that slightly better view or picture. Some birds that might have nested have left as a result and some other commoner species have suffered as “collateral damage” in this quest.

For wildlife to survive on our crowded island we need to learn to live alongside it, to give it necessary space and not to treat it as a consumable to be used up for our amusement. This is what those that go too close are doing, they are using up our wildlife for personal gratification. We cannot avoid having an impact, but we can make it as small as possible,  if we acknowledge this fact and take responsibility for it and we might have a a richer wildlife experience that everyone can all enjoy.


4 thoughts on “Being a Responsible Consumer

  1. Well said Bob, but please don’t put all photographers in the same box. Most of us love to get ‘decent’ photo’s of wildlife, but not at their expence. The welfare of all wildlife, is paramount to most of us, and keeping a reasonable distance is common sense, hence most of us use long lenses. These days of smart phones with limited cameras, have a lot to answer for.

  2. Most photographers I know are very mindful of the need to safeguard the environs of our wild life but I do accept that there are those who seem not to care. What I do find most annoying is the actions of what are commonly called ‘twitchers’ when a rare bird is found. Their conduct at times beggars belief. However, as you say, we must all learn to live in harmony with our wildlife. Thank you for a very informative article. I’ve been on this planet for over 80 years now but I still get that special feeling on hearing the first Cuckoo of spring, it reminds me of my early days when I was awakened by a Cuckoo calling some forty yards from my bedroom window from a huge elm tree. .

  3. Thanks for your support in this. I am certainly not lumping all photographers or birders in the “worst offenders” category. Photographers do seem to be getting worse however, possibly because there are more of them these days and I think that birders and especially twitchers, have improved a bit since their worst days.

    The group of four photographers seen tramping well into a non-access area and in the middle of the territory of a very rare breeding bird last week certainly did the image of photography no good at all and such actions will, inevitably, tar all of us with a camera to some degree. In this case a bird that had held territory for some time has now moved, almost certainly in direct response to the actions of these people. In effect they consumed this bird’s chosen territory forcing it to move, probably to a less preferred site where it is less likely to find a mate and breed, so ensuring that it will remain very rare. They will probably also have impacted on other, less rare species in the process as well.

    We all need to be aware of the potential for negative impacts, this does require some skill in knowing what is around and recognising when you are getting too close or remaining in the same place for too long. Ideally a birder should be able to know if he is standing on a rare plant or mining bee nest and the bat surveyor realise if they are standing by a barn owl nest hole. We will never get to this point but we should all be willing to entertain the possibility that what we are doing is using up the living space of something else, we all need to try to “tread lightly”.

    We are lucky to live in a wonderful, varied, wildlife filled part of the country, so let’s try and keep it that way.

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