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Pirbright Common has gone

Printed From: Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK
Category: Conservation
Forum Name: Habitat Loss
Forum Description: Use this forum to highlight harmful development projects and other issues involving habitat destruction
URL: http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=4709
Printed Date: 15 Nov 2019 at 11:31pm
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.06 - http://www.webwizforums.com


Topic: Pirbright Common has gone
Posted By: Marsh
Subject: Pirbright Common has gone
Date Posted: 11 Mar 2014 at 9:32pm
Back in the 70s I covered pretty much all of NW Surrey looking (rather then surveying) for reptiles. Even exchanged letters with Keith Corbett and others. Supplied record cards for every site I visited. Went on a trip to Dorset with Tony Phelps where I showed Mark O'Shea the first adder he'd seen in the wild on the way to the venue.
The best place I found for the common stuff was Pirbright Common, to be honest I only found the common stuff in NW Surrey. In those days I believe Pirbright Common was still in Army hands. 
Late 70s (after 75 as I know the date I got an adder bite there) the area was "flailed". At least that was the name I had discovered for the wreckage of the site.
About 15 to 20 years later the reptiles had found the way back, about 15 years ago I had an amazing hit of around 35 herps, mostly adder, some natrix, good count of slow worm, and the usual viviparous.
Slowly, for no apparent reason as far as I could see, the adders, in particular, dropped in number.
I went there Sunday (9/3/2014) to see what was there.

Well, the place has been flailed again (or perhaps mulched, as suggested by a SWT ranger I spoke to on Chobham Common later). The ground cover is pretty much gone, totally gone. There are a few patches of heath left, but with a long run up I'd probably jump half way across them.

I am so sad. I've been going to this place for 40 years, it got torn apart in the late 70s, and it has been ravaged far worse now. I think this is the work of the Surrey Heathland Recovery Project or something along those lines, as they have signs along the gates of the adjacent Brookwood Heath.
I, personally, don't feel the herps like Brookwood Heath. I have never found much there. It's very flat, maybe not what herps like. So, I worry if they will want to move there. Also, it was the best place I have ever found for basking slow worms.
I wonder if I'll ever see an adder on the first place I saw one again?
So, pretty much a heads up. There is nothing to see on Pirbright now, the ground nesting birds have nothing left either.
Gutted. Really, really, very, very, gutted.
Marshall Black
I took some photos, might add later if anyone is interested. Can't bear to look at them for now....


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Marsh



Replies:
Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 11 Mar 2014 at 9:54pm
I would like to see pictures when you feel up to it.

What can I say? Seen it happen myself and there is nothing to fill the emptiness of the loss of animals at a site and memories tainted.






Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 11 Mar 2014 at 10:35pm
sorry to hear that news marsh. it must feel like a bereavement.

tom


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2014 at 6:43am
ditto to the above. Can't believe this sort of thing continues to happen in spite / because of all the organisations that should know better..


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2014 at 7:03am
This is very sad reading ,its what I have been witnessing for years in many areas ,the worse thing this is the sort of thing you expect from developers but when so called self appointed environment managers ruin places of habitat it beggars belief Keith

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   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2014 at 6:43pm
Originally posted by AGILIS AGILIS wrote:

This is very sad reading ,its what I have been witnessing for years in many areas ,the worse thing this is the sort of thing you expect from developers but when so called self appointed environment managers ruin places of habitat it beggars belief Keith


££££££££££ sorry call me cynical but it's all about them getting funding to keep their jobs. They get a stack of money and the cheapest way of getting the job done is to call in the contractors with plant machinery. The rest goes to pay the wages.

I think in the whole of my life it is the worst case of something simply being fundamentally 'wrong' I have ever come across.





Posted By: Marsh
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2014 at 7:37pm
Hi all, thanks for the comments.
Here are some photos.

The birches were a den area.

The birches in the distance, before the pine, were a den area, but I must say I hadn't seen much there in the past few years.

This gives some idea of the height of heather before the flailing.

Pretty much all habitat gone.

I'm thinking I'll be checking out some other areas now.
There were tracked machinery being used, you could see the after effect of the vehicles.
The areas where I have had most sightings in recent years have been wiped out so completely that I had no reference point left to work out where the den areas were located. 
Cheers
Marsh


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Marsh


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 12 Mar 2014 at 8:04pm
Marsh if you think Pilbright is bad have a look back on the Method and management thread at the Hyde heath oblitration near Stoborough In Purbeck that I put on a while back and see what the rspb did there   keith

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   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2014 at 8:55am
I think keith the pictures often make things look better than they are. Less soil disturbance than I've seen at some sites where they have scraped it, but this is a an almost total loss of vegetation. Particularly badly timed with animals now emerging.

Sadly Marsh from what I've experienced it's likely that you will see animals, maybe even more than usual after a vegetation clearance. It is short lived though, as predators see a lot more too.


Posted By: Marsh
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2014 at 9:41pm
Keith, I don't doubt there has been worse, it's just sad for me personally. If you are Keith Corbett this is exactly the area we swapped letters about in the (very late - trying to save our ages) 70s.
Gemma...........I don't think so, I will have a look every now and then, but am worried that the site is gone. I really don't think I will see animals. Actually, I think bye, bye, Pirbright.
To be honest, there are sites nearby that I have neglected, easier to get a quick hit at Pirbright than spend time searching different places. So, maybe there will be a result here and there. So, I will keep looking.
But, I still haven't seen my 1st adder of the year yet, makes my year start normally. Will try this weekend.
Never give up, thanks for the chat, I'll be out there this weekend.
Cheers all,
Marsh


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Marsh


Posted By: Suzy
Date Posted: 13 Mar 2014 at 11:05pm
It won't be any consolation to you but this is happening all over. Local people are never consulted before all this is carried out, more's the pity.
My family walked at the weekend on a small heath that I used to spend a lot of time on. Now I rarely go. I'm not sure it ever had much management, but when the RSPB were asked to do so there were so many things done to the detriment of the place. More paths were cut through blocks of heather and gorse (why?), thus causing more disturbance, whole areas were scraped and cleared (why?) and what has grown there now is best described as lawn. The Dartford Warblers seem to have deserted the place as the gorse is much reduced. Anyway family reported that more scraping is being done at this site. And so it goes on.



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Suz


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 14 Mar 2014 at 7:32am
THE RSPB MANAGEMENT ARE TWITTERS THAT HAVE BECOME TWATTERS

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   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 14 Mar 2014 at 7:49am
Perhaps tidying up sites might make them more attractive for selling off for housing development seeing flood plains are out of fashion Keith

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   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 14 Mar 2014 at 8:58am
It always links back to money - they get funding for these schemes so nothing is going to stop them doing. They certainly are not going to a little thing like the wildlife they are charged to protect get in the way.

Marsh any idea of when the clearance work was actually carried out? 




Posted By: Marsh
Date Posted: 14 Mar 2014 at 8:55pm
Originally posted by AGILIS AGILIS wrote:

Perhaps tidying up sites might make them more attractive for selling off for housing development seeing flood plains are out of fashion Keith
Do you know, that was one of the first things I thought about when I saw the mess! But, I think it's a SSII or similar so should be fairly... safe...


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Marsh


Posted By: Marsh
Date Posted: 14 Mar 2014 at 9:08pm
Gemma, I believe from my chat with the SWT guy that it was reported in the (presumably local paper (I did a quick search but found nothing) and was pretty much being sl*gged off). But I don't have any date. From my visit it should seem to be a 'fairly' recent thing. Lots of recent looking ripped gorse and birch stems. Maybe a January or February thing?
Marsh


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Marsh


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Mar 2014 at 9:18am
Marsh have you been in contact with NE about it? We have been promised in the past that these events would no longer be brushed under the carpet. 

I've found confronting the organisation behind the works is not of much use.

The usual story is they instruct a contractor to do the clearance work.

Then blame the contractor for doing exactly what they told them to do. Saying things like they didn't expect it to look the way it does (not sure quite what they did expect it to look like) etc.

Really the only hope is NE involvement, but I've had little luck with it all in the past. Including cases where such works were carried out a second and third time at adjacent sites, despite attention being drawn to the detrimental effects on herpetofauna.

In the end I just became so disillusioned with the entire system that I rarely now even visit heathland sites for fear of what might have happened to them.






Posted By: Chris Monk
Date Posted: 17 Mar 2014 at 11:07am
Marsh
Most of Pirbright Common is a SSSI and also part of the Thursley, Ash, Pirbright and Chobham SAC (Special Area of Conservation), which is a European level designation. It is also one of the rare SSSIs where the reptile fauna is included in the reasons for designation in 1993 according to the documents on the Natural England website.
However looking at the details for the Pirbright Common part of the SSSI it says:

The unit failed its targets for age composition of the heather, composition of graminoids and forbs and the amount of bare ground was only just sufficient to pass the target. There was insufficient pioneer heather over much of the site and to encourage it to grow small patches of dwarf shrub heath should be cut and removed to create a balanced age range. The creation of firebreaks would provide some bare ground which should encourage the growth of pioneer heather and dwarf gorse. The scrub, trees and bracken are being well controlled and the work will continue. Some rides and glades need to be created in the woodland. There is some suitable habitat for the SPA birds, though not very much for the woodlark which requires early successional heather and undisturbed bare ground.
This was written by their officer responsible for the site Des Sussex.

Looks like they could be doing Natural England's bidding to get bare ground and pioneer early growth heather - the sort that is a fuzz over the ground and no use for reptiles. Could be that birds are trumping reptiles under their objectives.

I would echo Gemma's advice but I would go direct to Natural England's national amphibian and reptile specialist Paul Edgar or his assistant Kat Woods. Paul.edgar@naturalengland.org.uk  or katharine.woods@naturalengland.org.uk.
Surrey ARG's website atlas shows that they have records for all the 4 widespread reptiles in the area that includes Pirbright Common, so maybe talk to Jamel Guenioui, who is their Reptiles Officer. His email is Jamel@surrey-arg.org.uk.
Keith Corbett is back in this country now, having retired to New Zealand for a few years, and is not afraid to throw some pebbles in the pond and cause some ripples.
mailto:J%61%6D%65%6C%40surre%79-%61r%67.or%67.u%6B" rel="nofollow -

If you want phone numbers for Paul or Keith just contact me.

Chris



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Chris

Derbyshire Amphibian & Reptile Group

www.derbyshirearg.co.uk



Posted By: Marsh
Date Posted: 17 Mar 2014 at 7:41pm
Gemma and Chris,
appreciate your advice, but I'm not going to bother to chase the "IMHO" damage to the site.
Over the years there has been work including firebreaks (quite extensive in some areas) and also removal of birch clumps.
The birch clumps are often a focus point for hibernation dens, and I remember phoning SWT (I'm a life member) and asking what the paint marks on the trees meant. I also expressed my concern that the works were being started when reptiles were emerging. SWT said it was too early, I mentioned the numbers of herps I'd seen on my visit and they were surprised.....They gave me a contact phone number on the Surrey Heathland Conservation thingy and I discussed a particular birch clump and the fact it was a den. Being assured that the guy new exactly where I was talking about and it would be safe (over the phone he seemed to know the site very well), I returned the next weekend to find it gone.
In reality my original post was about my disappointment that the site was pretty much dead for the foreseeable future. I know from the past (as mentioned above) that even if people on the ground warn of potential losses it still happens. Chasing my butt around with various bodies is not going to change that Pirbright is gone for around 15 years, and that it will probably never get back to what it once was. Sorry if that seems negative or whatever, but I do really appreciate your feedback and knowledge.
I'll probably get checking out some other sites I've neglected over the easy choice of Pirbright, and hopefully be able to add to the current records.
Oh, and if Keith has been herping (the most beautiful gekoes on the planet) in New Zealand 'd love to hear of experiences and advice. I've been there quite a few times and am returning this year, but have never seen a wild gecko there!
Cheers
Marsh


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Marsh


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Mar 2014 at 8:08pm
Can't blame you for not wanting to chase round Marsh, never got me anywhere other than totally frustrated with all those involved. 

Had very similar experiences in the past of locating  hibernaculum, informing appropriate people only for the area to be destroyed. Even had a guy on the ground said 'Oh I did see your report, but I didn't understand what the numbers meant'. It was a ten figure grid references, labelled 'Grid Reference'....


Posted By: Marsh
Date Posted: 17 Mar 2014 at 9:41pm
Gemma, the guy seemed to know the exact bunch of birches I was talking about, spoke to him about the big pine next to it, where the footpath was, even the slope of the ground. Still went....



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Marsh


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 18 Mar 2014 at 4:41pm
Yep, I know the guy that said he didn't understand the grid reference knew exactly where it was too!


Posted By: Chris Monk
Date Posted: 19 Mar 2014 at 9:49pm
Being on site when the work is done is the only way to prevent damage to sensitive areas but the people organising the work don't like anyone else's opinions or knowledge. Also we never get invited to help supervise what the professionals and contractors are doing.

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Chris

Derbyshire Amphibian & Reptile Group

www.derbyshirearg.co.uk



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 20 Mar 2014 at 8:33am
Exactly Chris, during my professional work I would not allow any contractor to start work without watching brief. On the one occasion a contractor ignored this instruction, animals died. All they were doing was installing exclusion fencing!

The fact is as no attempt is made to move animals in these schemes I'm not really sure what good it would do. One could protect hibernacula, but the animals will still face a moonscape when they emerge. 

It simply shouldn't be happening at all. This level of clearance would not occur during any of my contract work until after the animals were excluded, captured and relocated. Even though I've now seen it time and time again I still find it almost unbelievable these events are allowed to even happen.



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