At the heart of the Nene Valley lies a wildlife gem, a string of flooded gravel pits including Summer Leys and Stanwick Lakes which come to life with the arrival of thousands of birds every winter. This incredibly valuable network of lakes and wetlands is under threat and already showing signs of decline caused by the increasing pressure put on it to provide recreational space for the growing population of surrounding towns and villages. The birds using these wetlands are particularly sensitive to disturbance caused by people walking too close or by dogs that are running free. We want to help local communities enjoy the natural environment and wildlife spectacles that the Valley offers, without damaging it. To do this we need to understand what the environmental limits are on increasing visitor access. Access that is causing detrimental effects will need to be mitigated through careful site management, and where we find that increased visitor numbers can be achieved sustainably this can be promoted.
A Visitor Survey was undertaken in 2012-13 by Footprint Ecology. There are an estimated 900,000 visitors to the SPA each year, and we can conclude that:
- Most visitors live within 3km, arrive by car, and stay for less than 2 hours.
- Dog walking is the most common activity in the Nene Valley.
- Dog walkers cover 3.1km, and cyclists 7.3km on average during a visit.
- A high proportion of visitors are aware of the value of the site for wintering birds.
- Stanwick Lakes is the busiest location, with around one-third of the visitors.
- The quality of a site was important for determining where to visit, as was distance from home.
We are involving local communities and site users through the establishment of Community Panels.
By working with developers and planners we are aiming to increase the amount of accessible, natural, green space that is available to people living in and around the Nene Valley to alleviate some of the pressure on the most sensitive sites, and to provide more space for wildlife to thrive.
Photo: Interacting with nature at Ferry Meadows, Chris Porsz