Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 1st November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Hardy of Wath Lord Hardy of Wath Labour 5:30 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, Amendment No.15 seeks to include in the list of excepted areas,

"Land within a recognised nature reserve where public access could destroy or damage protected fauna or flora".

I do not wish to detain the House for long. Noble Lords on both sides of the House are aware of many of the arguments that could be advanced in support of the amendment. We have, for example, on frequent occasions referred to the problems in regard to ground-nesting birds and the way in which they can easily be disturbed and their breeding patterns ruined. It is true that many farmers and landowners take a sympathetic view towards the survival of these species--but not all. Sometimes it is desirable that birds should live and breed in a nature reserve.

It is even more important for plants. In a communication this morning from Plant Life--one of the plethora of conservation bodies--I was reminded that many counties in England have seen almost one species of wild plant disappear each year. Many noble Lords may think that is certainly the case in the arable areas of southern and eastern England, but in Cumbria, in the last century, at least 48 species of wild plants have gone.

The people who will enjoy the access provided in the Bill will not wish wantonly to trample or uproot such plants, but the plants could be endangered by their movement, especially if they are unaware of where the plants are. The difficulty is that if one had a rare plant and drew it to the attention of walkers, 99 per cent of them would recognise the importance of ensuring that that plant survived. But the other 1 per cent would recognise that, by its very rarity, it has value, and they would uproot it. Our experience with limestone pavements has shown that quite a lot of people have made a great deal of money by ravishing that important part of our natural heritage. Such people might decide that the uprooting of a rare wild plant was an equally profitable venture.

At the same time, however, people need to be able to see the rare birds and the rare plants. It would be therefore a good idea for the nature reserves to enjoy a degree of protection that allows them to steer and guide ramblers and show them, or let them see, where the rare plant or the rare bird may be. If there is no such protection, ramblers will be able to walk willy-nilly across nature reserves and perhaps more harm than good will be done.

I recognise that the Government are extremely committed to the causes of biological diversity and the survival of the species. Adding this provision to the Bill would strengthen the Government's reputation in that area.

I am not suggesting--the amendment does not suggest or require--that the whole of sometimes very extensive nature reserves are protected. But the part of a nature reserve which contains the nest of a rare bird or a rare species of flower should be protected. I do not say that rare species should be protected to the point where they cannot be seen. Those noble Lords who visited RSPB reserves in Scotland will have seen what can be done in this respect. The public are able to watch the osprey there because the reserve is organised in a way which enables them to do so. The provision in the amendment would encourage such opportunities.

I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept the amendment. If he is unable to do so, I hope that he will bring forward a version of the amendment which will provide this opportunity. Too many species--particularly flora--are now hanging on by the skin of their teeth. They need all the help that can be given if they are to survive. This seems to me to be a useful way of contributing to their survival. I beg to move.