Hides re-opening this Monday!

These views will be yours again!

Tern Hide looking north-east
Ivy South Hide looking north-east

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has maintained the stance that our hides would re-open again in line with step 4 of the transition out of lockdown, ever since the Government revealed its roadmap in the Spring of this year.

That day has, finally, arrived, and as such the hides at both Blashford and Testwood Lakes will be open daily from Monday 19th July.

Clearly this transition out of COVID-19 restrictions is not without risk as the number of cases and hospital admittance continues to accelerate both nationally and, critically,  locally, and for this reason, and in order to give ALL of our visitors the confidence to use our facilities we will be asking that everyone wears a face covering while using a Hide, that they open sufficient windows to ensure a reasonable air circulation and that everyone observes a 1m+ social distancing between themselves and others not of their party.

We know of course that our hides can be very popular with photographers as well as birdwatchers and respectfully remind EVERYONE that with the number of people able to safely use the hides limited, if the nature reserve is busy with lots people wishing to view the wildlife from the hides it will not be appropriate for any individual to “set up camp” in a hide, but rather they should leave and allow other visitors to enjoy the views after a reasonable length of time.

We will be reviewing how the reopening goes in light of visitor feedback and, of course, as circumstances and/or government guidance changes, and will amend the way we ask visitors to use the hides, or close them again, accordingly.

Since the pandemic started our income has plummeted – both that which we normally generate through our educational visits and events, but also that which we normally receive from our visitors in-lieu of a reserve entry fee.

Even on those days when the site has been busy, which has been often, our visitor contributions have been well down on what we would normally expect.

This may, or may not, be a perceived reduction in benefit which some visitors may have been feeling for as long as the hides have been closed, not appreciating the costs that are involved with our maintaining the excellent footpaths around the site, providing toilet facilities, wardening it in light of antisocial behaviour, particularly last Summer, and continuing to manage the site for nature conservation.

Regardless of the reasons for the reduction in donations that we have seen, we are very much hoping that with the hides open again visitors will dip their hands into their wallets again. We absolutely do rely on your donations to continue our work at Blashford Lakes so thank you in advance and anticipation of your future generosity!

Please bear in mind that we will always endeavour to open our nature reserves but that, with our limited staff numbers against an ever increasing number of people being required to self-isolate, that it is becoming an increasingly likely possibility that there will be times when with very little, if any, notice, we will be unable to open on occasion.

Should this situation arise we will always let people know via Twitter (https://twitter.com/bobservablelife?lang=en,https://twitter.com/jimday22857614?lang=en or https://twitter.com/HantsIWWildlife), the website (https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/nature-reserves/blashford-lakes-nature-reserve) and, of course, this blog, just as soon as we are able to do so, so do keep an eye on all of these channels, especially before planning a visit from any distance away. And if you do arrive and find that we have been paralysed do take advantage of the fact that there is a very beautiful part of the New Forest just down the road and over the cattle-grid!

Lockdown 3 – Blashford Lakes Update

Well Happy New Year everyone!

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:

on Twitter:

Bob: @bobservablelife

Jim: @JimDay22857614

and on Instagram:

Tracy: @littlewillowwarbler

Best wishes to all of our visitors, stay safe, and we look forward to seeing everyone again on the other side!