Hampshire's critical nature reserves are being trashed by hundreds of yobs during lockdown
HORDES of sun-seeking yobs are trashing nature reserves and threatening critically-endangered birds, sparking an outraged plea from a conservation charity.
Hooligans have plastered beauty spots with racist graffiti, trampled nesting areas of endangered animals and set trees on fire in shocking scenes of anti-social behaviour across the county, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has warned.
Brawls involving people fighting with broken bottles have been reported in scenes that have left the conservation charity’s chiefs shocked.
Among the areas most blighted by thugs included Farlington Marshes, which has seen vandals trashing signs and breaking into protected nature trails.
The destruction has been branded ‘mindless’ by the man in charge of the marshes and has prompted a desperate plea from the wildlife trust’s chief executive Debbie Tann, who said: ‘I’m shocked, upset and angry at what’s been going on in our nature reserves.
‘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.’
Chris Lycett, reserves officer for Swanwick and Farlington, has worked for the charity for the past four years and said the damage was the ‘worst he had ever seen’.
He said: ‘I have got 10 sites and it’s chaos in every single one of them. People are behaving unacceptably everywhere. It’s mind-boggling.
‘It’s upsetting to see the mindless vandalism and unacceptable behaviour from a minority of people – a minority which now seems to be growing.
‘Last week especially was probably the worst we’ve ever seen. It’s been that perfect storm of great weather, people being furloughed and off work and now wanting to meet in public places with friends.’
Farlington Marshes is an area of national importance and home to endangered birds like the lapwing and avocet.
The reserve is a critical oasis in the middle of south Hampshire’s urban sprawl and a vital nesting site for those species at this time of year.
However, in the past week alone, numbers visiting Farlington have reached unprecedented levels, tripling from about 300 people a day to more than 1,000.
Also facing increasing pressure is Swanwick Lakes, which has seen yobs ripping off a gate and breaking into the site, trash left everywhere, fires started and people swimming in the lake.
On one occasion, a spokeswoman from the wildlife trust said people were seen fighting with broken bottles, with conservation volunteers caught in the middle.
The spokeswoman added: ‘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.’
Mr Lycett said the disturbances, which have included people camping on reserves and dumping barbecues, were having a ‘harmful effect’ on the breeding of protected species.
Mrs Tann added: ‘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 one per cent 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.’
The chaos at the nature reserves follows shocking scenes of anti-social behaviour on Southsea Common, with lockdown litterbugs leaving masses of trash and junk on the open area.
It has since prompted a plea from sickened city leaders, who have urged people to dispose of rubbish in a bin or take it home with them.