FINES of up to £20,000 and a criminal record are being threatened to stop people venturing on to a protected nature reserve.
Near Farlington Marshes are several islands that provide a home for hundreds of birds.
But, in recent months, people have been venturing across into the RSPB reserve from the marshes to search for either shellfish or dig for fishing bait.
The charity has now installed 24-hour CCTV surveillance and signs have been put up.
By law, digging for bait or shellfish-gathering within the RSPB reserve is illegal from May to July.
In addition, simply venturing too far into the bird reserve is an offence.
Wez Smith, who manages the reserve, said: ‘There have been a growing number of people crossing over the channel at Farlington Marshes in pursuit of either shellfish or digging for fishing bait.
‘For many, these two activities are a source of income and the shellfish and worms on the RSPB nature reserve, due to the very fact it is a nature reserve, are an obvious rich target.
‘Clearly, if we allowed the reserve to be exploited for profit we would be massively failing in our role of looking after the reserve’s wildlife.
‘The gist of these signs is to make it clear to people where the boundary lies so that there’s no confusion on this.’
Under historic laws, anyone has the right to collect bait on the foreshore of a place like Langstone Harbour. However, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, they are committing an offence if they are disturbing protected bird species.
Louise MacCallum, environment officer for Langstone Harbour, said: ‘Some people are likely to be unaware that their presence too close to a breeding colony of seabirds can reduce productivity of the colony, or even cause the breeding efforts of the birds to fail completely.’
Any questions can be directed to Wez.Smith@rspb.org.uk