Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Chase

A gloomy view of The Chase Local Nature Reserve in Dagenham, in more ways than one.  A colleague recently drew my attention to the current plight of The Chase and as I was in the area, I dropped in to refresh my memory of the site.  One of East London's largest nature reserves is under severe threat due to Government and Council cuts. Barking and Dagenham Council plans to cut its Ranger Service from 12 to just 5 staff, and to close the environmental education programme for 3000 primary school children taught annually at The Chase.  The reserve will be left unmanaged and the state of the art environmental centre moth-balled.  

The site is 260 ha of lakes, reedbeds, seasonal pools and flashes, acid grassland (horse-grazed and ungrazed), scrub and river with floodplain, notably with some Black Poplars.  Being slightly off from my regular beat, I have only visited the site a dozen or so times, but I briefly reminisced at the spots where Pine Bunting and Great Snipe were added to my London list.  The Chase is an excellent local birding patch but on the evidence of my visit is also very popular with local people for walking, dog-walking, angling etc. 

So at a time of growing realization of the value of green spaces for human health and increasing concerns over childrens ‘dis-connect’ with the natural world and wildlife, the Council decides to cut its service. 

Evidence shows that the proportion of children playing out in natural spaces has dropped by as much as 75 per cent over the last thirty to forty years. This is despite the proven positive effects that contact with the natural world has on children’s physical and mental health, personal and social development, and even academic achievements and life chances.   There is a petition here that can be signed to register opposition to these cuts and although rather late in the day there is surely no reason why these cuts can’t be reversed.  The Council has a meaningless sign at the site: ‘Barking and Dagenham’s building for the future’.   Clearly not a better future.


Paul Tout said...

Hi Graham,
We have similar issues here in Italy with the cutting of local govt. funding to nature reserves and pulicly-managed open spaces.
I don't know the layout of 'The Chase' but where small entrance fees and season tickets have been introduced here (NE Italy) there hasn't been much of a fall-off in use, even against a background of real economic hardship.
It would be better if the reserve were 'farmed out' to an NGO or local cooperative to run than kept by the local authority and allowed to deteriorate for lack of maintenance. One factor that obviously (negatively) affects the viability of such initiatives is the presence of free alternatives close by, but very often the 'cooperative' approach is better as the lines of command are shorter and levels of motivation better than those one finds (in my experience in Italy) when dealing with local authority employees. I'm sure you get me my drift...

Suffolk Nature said...

I used to use the Chase a lot when I lived in nearby Barking for flying my owl. Used to be a lovely place with so much to offer people from angling, dog walking and education. Such a shame that the council cuts are going to put the centre out of use too.