Published: 06:00, 25 January 2021
Lockdown restrictions are having a devastating impact on wildlife with more people venturing outdoors to protected areas and disturbing habitats, according to a conservationist.
Nik Mitchell, who runs Wildlife Conservation in Thanet, says walkers, bikers and people using drones have been heading to Pegwell Bay near Cliffsend and going into restricted parts.
The area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and wetland of international importance, designated as a protected area under UK and EU legislation.
The reserve is considered particularly important for its bird populations.
But Mr Mitchell says since March 2020, when the first lockdown was brought in, more people have been going onto the mudflats, saltmarsh, ancient dune pastures and coastal scrubland.
He said: "They can easily disturb wildlife there such as birds, seals, mammals and reptiles and prevent them feeding, resting or breeding, and they think nothing of it.
"I don’t think enough people realise how special Pegwell Bay is.
"The whole area is a complex mosaic of habitats for wildlife and since Covid-19 restrictions have been here, disturbance at the bay has increased massively.
"The site is signposted as a restricted area but people are choosing to ignore the rules, even though the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to intentionally disturb a protected species."
He says recently there have been members of the public riding around protected parts on motorbikes and others using drones, which can disturb birds and are not meant for use over nature reserves.
"Disturbances of bikes and drones are particularly frustrating because hobbyist drone flying and off-road motorbiking is not allowed under tier 5 restrictions anyway," said Mr Mitchell.
"The police have been informed of the recent events and filed a report."
Mr Mitchell says the cumulative impact on wildlife is massive.
"In winter particularly the birds need to be feeding as much as possible," he said.
"Wildlife is already under pressure from human activities, such as development, habitat destruction and pollution.
"I’m in my late 30s and in my lifetime the world has lost about half its wildlife.
"I do as much as I can to raise awareness and educate with the Facebook group I run with my friend Elliot Brown."