Although not entirely unexpected by most people the timing of yesterdays announcement from Government was perhaps something of a surprise…
Blashford was closed today, as the initial guidance on the law that will have come into affect by the time most people read this, was that “wildlife reserves” must close. The Wildlife Trust today, however, received clarification from DEFRA that the term wildlife reserves had been used in respect of paid attractions showing and exhibiting wildlife only, as rather than nature reserves as it had been interpreted initially. Indeed the term “wildlife reserves” has now been removed from the “Stay at Home ” guidance, which you can find in full here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home
So, the good news is that the Trusts nature reserves, including Blashford Lakes, will, for now at least remain open 🙂
We are however only open for local visitors to take their permitted exercise and, as such, and until such a time that the current restrictions are relaxed, although the Centre car park will be open daily 9am-4.30pm as normal, the Centre, portable toilet facilities and “Welcome Hut” will now be closed and the hides will remain closed to all visitors. In addition our brilliant volunteers have also been stood down from wardening, site survey and conservation tasks for the time-being.
We will continue to maintain an on-site staff presence to ensure the safety of visitors, as well, of course, to ensure the continued appropriate use of the nature reserve in such a manner that the wildlife conservation priorities of the site are not adversely affected by “rogue” visitors.
We will also monitor the use of the site generally, to ensure that our remaining open does not encourage breaches of the new restrictions by visitors.
With this latter point in mind we must emphasise that the new guidance is very clear on what is and isn’t permitted by way of exercise. Our interpretation of this is that it would clearly be acceptable for visitors to walk to Blashford Lakes from home and that it would also be acceptable for visitors to drive to the nature reserve by car (or cycle or use the bus) from up to a few miles away (for example places between, and including, Ringwood and Fordingbridge). We do not however, believe that it is appropriate for visitors to travel from further afield at this time – and that ideally they should only do so from within walking distance of the site.
The guidance is also very clear that visitors to the nature reserve should visit for outdoor exercise ONLY. We have therefore bought in the self-guided trails that so many visitors have been enjoying since restrictions were eased following the first lockdown…
We also understand that bird watching and photography is not permitted as part of our daily exercise.
Where as grabbing a picture with a “point and shoot” camera or phone, or pausing to scan a lake or the tree canopy with a pair of binoculars, I’m sure is probably fine, setting up a telescope or DSLR and tripod anywhere other than your own garden would not appear to be acceptable within the instruction by Government to Stay at Home (and if doing the latter in your garden, do bear in mind that the neighbours may well wonder what on earth you are up to!).
So, although not closed as such, Blashford must, for now, sadly, be effectively closed to most people and open only to very local visitors until such a time as the Government deems it safe for us to open the site to all again.
If you are lucky enough to live nearby and you do visit, please do pay attention to, and respect, the one-way routes and social distancing signage around the nature reserve. They do work and they will help keep you, us, and our other visitors safe.
The Trust will, as I wrote earlier, be monitoring the use of it’s estate over the next few days and weeks and, if it is apparent that the lockdown guidance is being flouted, or if the law changes, we will review our stance accordingly, and it may be that the decision is taken to close Blashford Lakes to all visitors.
I don’t think, and very much hope, that it will not come to that.
In the meantime, as always, for updates on opening, general news on what’s happening on the nature reserve (or generally in our busy lives. Lockdown home-learning with three young children is looming largely in mine right now!) do keep an eye on the website, this blog, or on our personal social media accounts:
It’s been a long time since I posted to this blog, even longer than usual, and, like everyone else who enjoys these blogs, I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with all things Blashford, reading about what Tracy and Bob were up to on the reserve and finding out how the site and wildlife was faring from mid March as Spring shifted to Summer all the way through to the beginning of July as Summer begins transition to Autumn, effectrively missing a whole season in the process.
I think everyone has had very different experiences of lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic generally as everyone’s individual circumstances have been so different. For me I am pleased, and relieved, to say that for all that it was scary, disturbing and unsettling at times, it has actually been positive for us as a family on the whole and has left us stronger, wilder and greener.
Hopefully our economy can be too.
Until my return to Blashford on 2nd July the previous time my feet had graced its paths was 13th March – my daughter fell ill over that weekend with a sore throat, ears and high temperature. Although it was unlikely to be coronavirus, following the guidance at the time she stayed off school and I worked from home initially to look after her but then, following the then 7 days quarantine period just as we thought she was returning to school and I was returning to work the goal posts changed and a 7 day quarantine for the ill person changed to 14 days for the ill person and their family. She was gutted to not be going back to school – and even more so when, again, just as she thought she would be returning, lockdown kicked in, school and the Trust offices closed and we were all at home indefinitely!
So life for us as a family had changed massively, as it did for most people. Those first few weeks weren’t too bad as we were all at home, but I don’t mind admitting that it soon got much harder, partly managing the emotional well-being of the family and especially my daughter who felt so cheated of time with her friends, and partly adjusting to a new routine of “teaching” the children during the day and then logging onto the Trusts remote desktop to work at night and into the early hours of the morning while the children were asleep, only to start it all over again the next day. My wife, who is an infant school teacher, would have sailed through the children’s work with them, but she of course was soon back at work in the classroom with those children whose parents were key workers or vulnerable so our kids were stuck with me. Generally, although hard, it all went okay but there were the occasional memorable days or odd weeks when things really did not work out so well. Both my daughter and I will, I think, remember always some very heated conversations about fractions whilst we battled through some of her maths lessons together!
So, although very unsettling at the time when the proposal that the Trust education staff be furloughed was first made, the reality was that actually in many ways it was a huge relief and meant that I could concentrate on just looking after my family rather than trying to juggle them and work and failing to do as well at either as I would have liked.
I reckon that a couple of weeks before I returned to work we even, finally, had it cracked at last, with the sudden realisation from the younger two children that actually if they just knuckled down and got on with it in the morning we could do fun stuff all afternoon! Shame it took them so long, but hey-ho!
Apart from the never-ending school home learning (the routine of which actually, however other children/parents found it, was, I think, invaluable to helping us get through lockdown in one piece as a family) the other thing that kept us going was being outside.
There was not a day went by when we were not immensley thankful to live where we do – just a 20 minute brisk walk from the front door to a woodland or 15 minute brisk walk to heathland.
Pretty much every day, without fail, after my wife had got back from work and we had had our tea we would all head out for our “exercise walk” and a recharge in nature that all of us needed and benefited from, even if, out of the five of us, it was only my wife and I that realised, or admitted to ourselves just how important to us it was! The children have always been reasonable walkers and always enjoyed exploring and creating mini-adventures on walks in the past, but, prior to lockdown, my wife and I would always first have to endure a barrage of moaning about it before and as we set out. During lockdown our evening walks just became part of what we did and no more did they moan. Within just a few weeks a walk that had taken us about an hour to complete was only taking about 45 minutes and we were able to lengthen the journey and venture a little further afield, discovering new walks and lots of lovely hidden gems of bog and ancient woodland hitherto unknown to us, and all right on our doorstep. As the lockdown restrictions eased and everyone else seemingly took back to their cars we continued (and still continue) to walk from home and are thoroughly enjoying doing so.
We are also very much blessed, unlike many, in so much that we have a garden, albeit a very small one. It was somewhere the children – and I – could escape to whenever we needed to. As weeks turned into months we were able to enjoy watching (and listening!) to the families of great tits and blue tits in the two bird boxes in our garden grow and fledge and, because we spent so much time outside, they and the other “resident” house sparrows, robins and blackbirds became very trusting of us and provided us all with an unparalleled closeness to wild birds that I think we are unlikely to experience again.
At one time, before children, our little garden was an oasis for wildlife – with a small pond and mini bog, a couple of fruit tree’s, micro-meadow, log pile and a herb bed that would buzz with insects all summer. With the arrival of our eldest things changed quickly – initially with “just” the loss of our pond (one of the hardest things I’ve ever done was filling that in!) but soon, as he became more adventurous and needed extra play space and was joined by his sister, a lawn was needed for football and chasing around in and the herb bed later disappeared under an extension as we added to the ground floor of the house to give us a little extra space to accommodate child number 3.
So it was with delight that over lockdown the children (instigated by them but very much encouraged by me!) decided that their “playing garden” should have more space for wildlife in it, and so it has developed over the last few months, giving both them, and especially me, a lot of pleasure in the process. It would be true to say that the children still govern the lion-share of the space, but, in addition to the two bird boxes, it now boasts a micro-meadow again, complete with “good for pollinator” flowers, chirruping with grasshoppers and churring with crickets, a mini (washing up bowl) pond, complete with attendant male large red damselflies (I’ve yet to see a female there, but live in hope!), a bespoke mini-beast & bee “hotel” and a small log pile.
One of the highlights was going out at night after the kids were in bed to check on a botched together home-made light trap (it was useless as it happens and never caught a single insect, let alone moth!) only to be surprised by the sudden movement from a medium sized animal illuminated by the camping lantern that was supposed to be attracting insects. After the initial surprise I was thrilled to see that what I had at first taken to be a rat (there’s been a few of those around as well) was actually a hedgehog – the first I’d seen in the garden for years 🙂
The children have yet to see the hog, other than a photograph and short film of it, but they are delighted to know that the “sacrifices” they have made within the garden in the interests of wildlife conservation have paid off and are really keen to add a hedgehog house to the “wild patch”. After I’ve made them a “den” out of recycled pallets that is – yes, they still have their own interests and priorities for me to follow and willingly “allowed” me to mow some of “our” meadow in order to accommodate the groundworks for the new construction (don’t worry though. I cunningly managed to miss a different patch of lawn when I mowed last to mitigate for the recent depletion in garden grassland habitat!).
The den is being constructed, slowly. Following my return to work at the beginning of the month, progress has slowed somewhat, but it has not ground to a halt and the childrens interest in our wildlife visitors has not reduced as the restrictions of lockdown have eased, helped somewhat perhaps by the occasional new “resident” of our garden, like this rather fine male stag beetle who graced our front garden with his presence for several days recently.
It was really very strange that first day back at Blashford – even just driving to work and joining the A31 at Picket Post Hill and accelerating to 70mph after nearly 4 months of not driving anywhere beyond a weekly food shop and not leaving the 40mph restricted roads of the New Forest, was quite a shock to the system.
It’s been great to finally see and catch up with Bob & Tracy, and, of course, re-discover Blashford Lakes in its limited, but still quite special, new post-lockdown guise.
Lots of work to be done now, both at work as well as at home in the garden wild patch – and all of it so much easier than lockdown fractions with my 8 year old!