THOUGHTLESS louts and partying yobs making the most of the eased lockdown restrictions have trashed nature reserves, started fires and disturbed wildlife in some of the worst vandalism ever seen.

Conservationists at the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), which protects some of our most fragile natural landscapes, say they are “saddened and angered” at high levels of antisocial behaviour on its nature reserves during the recent warm weather.

It says a large number of its reserves have been damaged with littering, blazes caused by barbecues and rare flowers picked and trampled upon. Wildlife has been disturbed and nests destroyed by dogs off leads, boaters, swimmers and anglers.

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Among the incidents of damage the trust has been forced to deal with, are fences being cut at Oakley Hill reserve by people trespassing on Chinnor cement works lake to swim in the flooded works – itself extremely dangerous. The fence prevents livestock from escaping and means a large part of the reserve cannot be used for grazing.

Litter, dog fouling and fires have disfigured Cholsey Marsh near Wallingford. Visitors to Cholsey and to Dry Sandford Pit near Abingdon, have also been accused of failing to observe social distancing and blamed for careless car parking which has damaged verges and blocked access to gates.

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At Chimney Meadows near Bampton, and Warburg near Henley, there has been damage from people picnicking, littering, lighting barbecues and riding motorbikes.

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Closer to Oxford, at Sydlings Copse, near Barton, visitors have endangered ponies at the site by feeding them. One pony was found with a long dog lead wrapped around its neck and leg.

At Hartslock, near Goring, visitors trampled rare orchids, while at Lashford Lane Fen, near Abingdon, two trees were set alight next to a reedbed.

Elsewhere, people boating and swimming have disturbed nesting birds including terns, lapwing and oyster catchers, while anglers have destroyed sand martin nests and disturbed breeding water rails, great crested grebes and reed warblers.

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Motorcyclists and horseriders have damaged fragile ecosystems.

The trust’s Land Management and People Engagement Director, Christopher Williams said: “I’ve been shocked, saddened and angered by the disgraceful behaviour and actions by some people which we have witnessed at our nature reserves in the last few weeks. These special places have been lovingly cared for by volunteers and staff for decades and it is very upsetting to see the impact of the actions of a few thoughtless individuals.

“I’ve worked in the sector for nearly 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. We have seen a dramatic increase in vandalism, fly tipping, litter, fires, out of control dogs worrying our livestock and people abusing our ponies.”

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“People have been disturbing important nesting sites by playing, swimming and kayaking in lakes and ponds set aside for wildlife. People have been having picnics, playing football, flying kites and drones, camping and having barbecues at these places which are meant to be places where wildlife can thrive.

“None of these activities are permitted at our sites and they are doing untold damage to the prospects of rare and precious wildlife.

“Our Land management teams are already struggling to cope with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and this is causing additional and unnecessary stress to those dedicated staff and volunteers who care for these places.”

  • Anyone who witnesses antisocial and criminal activity at a nature reserve should contact the police on 101.