Saturday, 3 December 2011

An Eastern Crowned Warbler once flew halfway across this ride

....and into a whole net of controversy. And who’s fault was it that we didn’t see this eastern gem – well it was everyone’s apparently, although no-one seemed to blame the warbler for flying off. It was apparently released into a willow tree, with barely a good-bye, but at that time it was just a Yellow-browed Warbler, low-life amongst asian vagrants, barely worth the time of thinking ‘not a bad inland record’ let alone travelling to try to see it. Then its true colours were revealed (good job they didn’t have to send the prints off to Kodak) and the greyness of its crown matched the blood-drained faces of the local birders who suddenly realised Hertfordshire’s one-in-20-year-good-bird was at Hilfield Park Reservoir, otherwise known as 'Fortresss Hilfield'.

There was some talk that some didn’t want the news to be released. Now if ringers or birders don’t want to release news of a bird, that’s their decision as far as I’m concerned. One might argue it’s a little anti-social as there can hardly be any birder who hasn’t at some time gone to see a bird found by someone else...but it is their decision and should be respected. I’ve nothing against ringers either, quite the contrary. Did you know that, statistically speaking, 50% of the UK’s recorded Eastern Crowned Warblers have been picked out of a net. However, this was Hilfield Park Reservoir – a designated Local Nature Reserve (LNR), and according to Natural England “LNR’s are for both people and wildlife”.

The trouble is, I’m not sure how many ‘people’ are thought should benefit from an LNR, but it surely must be more than the present number, and it would certainly include the hastily formed Hertfordshire branch of the Eastern Crowned Warbler Appreciation Society (ECWAS). Okay, so the birds of the site are well recorded and documented in an excellent report (where you can see that the site doesn’t actually have many ‘crowning’ moments). There is a view that withholding bird news is in the best interest of the conservation of the site. But ultimately is it really beneficial for the future of the site?

Back in the early 1990s, the Wildlife Trust stoutly defended this site against a planning application to locate the nearby sailing club on the reservoir. Had it lost, the site would not support its current importance for wildlife. One of the main arguments used at the time was that the site was not fulfilling its LNR objective – ‘for both wildlife and people’, as few people were allowed in. Now this is a water company operational site and understandably there are rules to be followed. Anyone can access this site if they are a Wildlife Trust member and arrange to pick up a key (as it has always been). But opening the site for special events requires a bit more organisation and supervision. And by the time the ECWAS arrived, it was apparent that the warbler’s discoverers had scarpered as quick as the bird itself. Perhaps if the spirit in which the site was designated is to be fully realised, a ‘friends of...’ group, with a specific remit to both record wildlife and ‘encourage use of the site’, might be a better bet for the future.

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