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Wildlife group 'dismayed' by Battlemead Common masterplan

A ‘masterplan’ for Battlemead Common has been updated by the council – but one wildlife group says it is ‘dismayed’ by the proposals.

The 110 acres of land between Cookham and Maidenhead were purchased by the Royal Borough in December 2018.

An original plan for the land, off Lower Cookham Road, was created earlier this year after consultation.

The updated scheme – called The Ecological Management Plan – includes measures to ‘enhance wildlife’ while ‘giving greater public access’, according to the council.

Included in the plan is a new public footpath in the East Field, running parallel with the River Thames, with a dog-proof fence and hedgerow separating the path from the rest of the field, which is home to rare wildlife.

Other changes include the causeway path, which also runs through the East Field, opening during the warmer months from March to October. It will be closed from October to March to prevent disturbance of wildfowl.

Dogs will be allowed off the lead year-round in the West Field - but in all other areas that are open to the public, dogs will need to be kept on a lead.

Meanwhile, the Willow Woodland area in the southern part of the common will remain closed to the public.

The plan has been prepared by Austin Foot Ecology and will be reviewed after one year.

Battlemead Common has been at the centre of a number of disagreements about public access and ecological benefits.

Chairman of nature group WildCookham Mike Copland called the latest decision ‘ignorant’.

“We are very annoyed, we are dismayed,” he said.

“We have never said there should be no public access. All we have said all along is this is a prized piece of land.

“It is an amazing opportunity, which not many councils would have, to take land over which there are no public rights. Let’s look at how we can use that to maximise the biodiversity.

“We are quite dismayed as to what led them to make this rather ignorant decision.

“We are seeking meetings with the council to get this delayed. We are looking at all aspects of that, including legal possibilities.

“[But] we don’t want to do that.”

A Facebook group titled ‘Save Battlemead’ had been created since the new plan was formulated.

Cllr Donna Stimson, the council’s lead member for climate change and countryside, told the Advertiser: “I just believe in fair process. We have been thinking about this long and hard.

“What we decided was to [talk to] Austen Foot and ask them, say to them: ‘we are at an impass, we want to have biodiversity net gain, but we want compliance with the rules’.

“I know [some people] are upset about this, but I believe you are more likely to get compliance. We have already lost three or four birds to dogs who have been [on the land] without permission.

“You can have some of it [the land], and we are making it more secure.”

She added: “We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful habitat like this on our doorstep.

“We must do all we can to preserve and enhance the wildlife that occupy it, while also allowing residents to enjoy the area.

“I anticipate that walkers and those with dogs will respect the separate wildlife spaces, now that they have increased access. It is critical that dogs are not allowed to negatively impact on wildlife.

“I believe this fairer approach will encourage compliance, and all groups will be able to work together to protect the area.”

Dog walker Oliver Sharpe, who heads up the Facebook group ‘Battlemead Common – Our Dogs View’, was satisfied with the new plan.

He said: “It seems like [the council] has been really fair and have listened.

“Everyone should have a view, everyone should be listened to.”

Asked about whether he was happy about dogs having to be kept on leads in public areas outside of West Field, he added: “It is not ideal, but you know what, it is a compromise.”

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  • JStannard

    08:51, 25 July 2020

    We could look at the science on the impact of dogs on wildlife. A study published in Inside Ecology found that disturbance (by dogs) had: - significant adverse effect on the time that birds spent foraging for food - caused a 41% reduction in the numbers of individual birds detected - and there was as a 35% reduction in species richness compared with untreated controls https://insideecology.com/.../managing-dogs-and-nature.../

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  • Deborah Mason

    12:44, 22 July 2020

    Also, just to note that the Save Battlmead - Save the Planet group now has roughly double the numbers of the dog walker group - but nobody got in touch to get a quote from us!

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  • Deborah Mason

    11:43, 22 July 2020

    This is neither fairness nor due process but capitulation to minority interests. I do not share Donna’s confidence that people will comply - you only have to look at the state of other local green spaces and lack of compliance with COVID-19 regulations to see that this optimism is misplaced. Wildlife groups have already made compromises and no one objects to public access. But no one needs to use the causeway path (which runs through the wildfowl area) there are other paths. Attempts to make it sound like an ancient route need fact checking - the boundary stones are from the 1930s and the causeway from around 2000. The land has never been a common (despite the council’s name change). There is no need for this concession- other paths are available. Dogs off lead have already killed birds here. You can literally cross the road to the Widmore if you want to let your dog off the lead - they don’t need the West Field. These concessions send the message that people’s petty desires are more important than the public good - if this is our response to the Climate Emergency then we are all doomed!

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