In 2011, Natural England decided its National Nature Reserves (NNRs) and similar holdings should be legally dedicated for permanent public access. But after instituting a blanket ban on climbing at Ravensdale in the Peak District, how serious is that commitment?
The fact that ravens should nest in Ravensdale should hardly come as a surprise. The clue, rather obviously, is in the name. And in the past, when ravens have nested on the crag, the BMC has been happy to support restrictions on climbing routes near the nest.
So when ravens nested on the classic E1 Via Vita on Raven’s Buttress this year, some kind of restriction was inevitable. But Natural England’s demand that all of Ravensdale should be off limits has left the BMC frustrated at what access officers and volunteers say is a wholly unnecessary blanket ban.
‘We had hoped that the view nature conservation is about excluding reasonable access belonged to a bygone age,’ said Henry Folkard, BMC access rep for the Peak. ‘This draconian restriction is without merit, and without precedent. Unfortunately for climbers, this action speaks louder than the public statements Natural England have made about improving public access to nature reserves.’
Ravens are often said to be wary of human presence but climbers have been tolerated for several years at Millstone. The argument can be made that Ravensdale is a quiet crag so no new breeding species would be habituated to human presence at that site. That is why the BMC is prepared to accept a limited ban in Ravensdale.
But occasional passage along a path that is only briefly visible from the nest can hardly be held to constitute disturbance, Folkard argues. Routes on Flying Buttress, Beachcomber Buttress and beyond are in no way visible from the nest.
Ravens have enjoyed a recovery in recent years in areas of sustained recreational use, and their previous decline had nothing to do with outdoor recreation, and everything to do with persecution by sheep-farmers and gamekeepers.
In formulating its recommendations for dedicating land, Natural England said a key requirement will be meeting the primary nature conservation purpose of National Nature Reserves, while adopting the least restrictive option for access possible. That hasn’t happened in the case of Ravensdale.
‘In the BMC's own site of special scientific interest at Horseshoe Quarry, we encourage others to enjoy the place on foot, and during our tenure species diversity has increased,’ says Folkard.
Listen to Henry Folkard speak about this issue on BBC radio (from 38 minutes)
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