Respecting the countryside

Islanders have been very fortunate during the Covid-19 outbreak in having so many spaces where they can exercise while enjoying stunning scenery.

And many more than usual have taken the opportunity to explore over 3,000 vergées of publicly-owned land and sites open to all and cared for by the National Trust for Jersey and other agencies including Jersey Water, the parishes, Société Jersiaise and private individuals.

Jersey also has a network of paths across public and private land that is used by an estimated 100,000 people a year.

Growth, Housing and Environment’s natural environment team manages over 43 miles of public paths and 40 sites ranging in size from the expansive sand dunes in St Ouen’s Bay to a small copse of woodland overlooking St Catherine’s Bay.

The government’s senior natural environment officer, Tim Liddiard, is encouraged that more Islanders are using the countryside but saddened that a few are not observing the countryside code.

‘There have been notable benefits coming from an increased use of our Island’s open spaces, which appears to have reignited a passion for our natural history,’ he said.

‘This increased awareness of our beautiful Island has fuelled a greater interest in caring for wildlife with more requests for advice but also more reports of damaged infrastructure in the countryside.

‘Wildlife seems to have fared well and during the lockdown period a couple of notable natural history events have been witnessed. Jersey’s first confirmed nightjar nest fledged two young in the heart of a site of special interest and the large chequered skipper butterfly returned to its historic breeding sites on the north coast following an absence of 26 years.

‘These remarkable events have happened during a period of increased use of the Island’s countryside by people making the most of their couple of hours of outdoor time, the fine weather and enjoying the vibrancy of our wildlife.

‘However, the increased usage has caused localised issues with wild camping, lighting fires and riding bikes off designated paths.

‘The “take home” message is that when something is carried out by a single person it may not cause any damage or disturbance, but when carried out by a number of people it will do.

‘Some recent problems have been experienced at Portelet Common, where large parties were being held and large amounts of debris left behind. Disturbance to nearby residents was also at an escalated level.’

The National Trust has also experienced antisocial behaviour at some of its sites as restrictions on social gatherings led to the closure of nightclubs and bans on large private parties at home.

Three sites in particular – Grantez in St Ouen, Le Coleron Battery in St Brelade’s Bay and Le Don Le Quesne on the coastline between Le Hocq and Pontac in St Clement – have been regularly used for unauthorised parties.

Almost every Monday over the summer trust staff have had to clear litter, broken glass and human faeces from these sites, where fires have also been lit and people have camped overnight, contrary to the countryside code and legislation covering sites of environmental significance.

However, Mr Liddiard said it is a small minority of people who have been acting irresponsibly as the majority have been following the code.

Countryside code advice

lKeep to footpaths, particularly on cliffs.

lRespect the peace and quiet of the natural habitats and avoid disturbing others.

lLeave livestock, crops and machinery alone and shut all gates.

lDo not ride bicycles on footpaths.

lKeep dogs under control and remove waste.

lDo not pick wild plants or damage trees.

lDo not disturb bird nests or remove eggs.

lTake litter home as plastic and glass are dangerous to wildlife and livestock.

lKeep all ponds, streams and reservoirs clear of pollution.

In addition to the Island’s countryside code, Jersey’s Policing of Parks Law covers publicly-owned wild spaces, such as in St Ouen’s Bay and Portelet Common, and holding unauthorised events, lighting fires and camping are not permitted. Transgressors can face a fine of up to £1,000 and many sites are also covered by legislation designed to protect wildlife and internationally-significant SSIs.

Lockdown survey

Natural Environment took the opportunity during lockdown to conduct socially-distanced surveys at four popular sites: Les Blanches Banques in St Ouen’s Bay, Noirmont Common, St Catherine’s Woods and Sorel Point.

Staff spoke to 199 people in May and June to identify why and how they were using these sites.

The top answers were:

1. Something to do in lockdown (27%).

2. Walking, running, and taking exercise (17%).

3. Enjoying outdoor time with children (13%).

The survey also revealed that:

l97% were likely to continue to visit once Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

l80% had travelled by car, 12% had walked and 7% had cycled.

l54% had come from the most populated parishes of St Helier, St Saviour and St Brelade.

l34% had most enjoyed the landscape and views.

l17% enjoyed being immersed in nature.

l12% said it made them feel good.

‘One of the few benefits to come out of the Covid-19 period is that a large number of people appear to have taken the opportunity to enjoy more time outdoors, visiting the countryside and exploring with the family,’ Mr Liddiard said.

‘Experiencing our natural environment while staying fit and healthy is available to us all free of charge. We must all remember to treat it with continued respect or else this privilege will be lost to future generations.’

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