When nature does not always know best

SIR - I gather comments are being sought on the proposal to graze some areas of Fire Beacon Hill.

I know there’s a view that says “Nature knows best”, but, as a countryside user, I have some difficulty accepting that.

I’m fairly certain that what that really means is “I want things to stay just as they are”, but that just isn’t what Nature will do. Leave any piece of land unattended and fairly quickly it will be completely taken over by birch, bracken, bramble, hazel and the like, leaving an impenetrable jungle. That’s natural - survival of the fittest - but the end result is only useful if you want to exclude mankind from it. Any social use - wildlife study, person/dog walking, horse riding, off-road biking, etc. - requires some sort of access to be maintained and, to keep abreast of Nature, requires considerable effort. Anyone who thinks otherwise clearly hasn’t tried it.

Assuming that there is an on-going need for local people to continue to use the area for leisure purposes, then it follows that there is a continuing need for some degree of maintenance. Looking ahead to a period of increasing austerity, we have to look for ever more cost-effective means of achieving our aims and experience elsewhere - Aylesbeare Common for example - has clearly shown that grazing livestock is an extremely cost-effective way of not only keeping undergrowth at bay, but also encouraging a much greater diversity of both flora and fauna.

Experience elsewhere has also clearly shown that grazing livestock do not pose a significant threat to people’s leisure activities - quite the contrary, in fact. Given sufficient space, grazing animals will quite naturally move away from any perceived threat or intrusion, but people have shown themselves quite capable of vandalising temporary fencing and leaving gates open, resulting in a threat to both animals and people. Permanently fencing the perimeter of an area, with easy open/self-close gates, minimises that threat.

I grew up in the New Forest around the time that permanent fencing was first proposed there, so I’m quite familiar with the various arguments for and against, but looking at the area today I don’t think anyone would have it any other way. There is mutual benefit to people, animals and the environment, and I can’t see any reason why the same shouldn’t apply around here.

J Parker via email

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