Nature gets a kicking as local wildlife havens become hotbeds of anti-social behaviour

From racist graffiti, people fighting with broken bottles, piles of throw-away BBQs and groups of naked swimmers, Hampshire’s nature reserves have seen it all this weekend.

Even before lockdown restrictions were officially eased today, the warm weather attracted swarms of sun-seekers to some of our most important wildlife sites during the weekend.

Despite our recent survey revealing that people have been valuing nature more than ever, some local residents have been creating chaos, damaging property and putting themselves and others at risk. Witnesses reported seeing groups of young people and families canoeing in rivers where this is not allowed and swimming in potentially toxic lakes.

Volunteers have also found themselves caught in the middle of violent arguments - with broken bottles being hurled across pathways and open green spaces of one nature reserve. More than 20 bin-liners full of rubbish were collected from Testwood Lakes nature reserve in Totton on Monday morning. The litter, fires and constant disturbance will be putting our wildlife under great strain. Many important species need sanctuary at this time of year to breed or raise their young.

Debbie Tann, CEO of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said: “I’m shocked, upset and angry at what’s been going on in our nature reserves. Of course we want people to be outside and enjoying green spaces and we appreciate that lockdown has taken its toll, but these nature reserves are fragile places, covering just 1% of our overall landscape, and they are vital to protect our most vulnerable wildlife.

“We shouldn’t have to be worrying about the safety of our staff, volunteers and the public, or clearing up after people who obviously have little thought for anyone or anything. As an organisation we’ve got enough on our plate at the moment trying to look after these precious places and fighting for nature’s recovery. Lockdown has not meant that the emergency facing nature is on hold, wildlife is still in serious decline and it needs our help.

I’m asking people to show some respect and stop trashing the nature that we all depend on.”