Monday, 23 May 2011

A Sanctuary - but for how long?

See Comments below this post for an important update: 24th June 2011

Open Letter sent to Margaret Beckett MP, former Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and Member of Parliament for Derby South.

Dear Mrs Beckett

This year sees the seventh anniversary of your visit to Derby to open The Sanctuary bird reserve at Pride Park. It will also be the fifth anniversary of its designation as a statutory Local Nature Reserve (LNR).

Margaret Beckett, when Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
opening The Sanctuary bird and wildlife reserve with Cllr Ruth Shelton in 2004 
So it seemed timely to write and update you on how successful Derby's first ever bird reserve has been during that time in protecting some of the rarest and most endangered avian species in our city. I still treasure the video of you speaking at the launch about how the protection of UK BAP and Schedule 1 bird species was not only good for Derby City, but good for your former Department’s national biodiversity targets, too.

Despite having plans to help specific bird species, the unexpected always happens. Perhaps the most amazing events were the arrival of a Curlew Sandpiper and then an incredibly rare Dartford Warbler which stayed for six weeks in 2005. It had not been recorded in Derbyshire for 150 years and was a real crowd-puller!  Its choice of The Sanctuary seemed to vindicate the decision by the Lib Dem-controlled City Council to approve the creation of this unusual bird reserve. It had received the support of so many local naturalists groups, and it proved every one of them right.

Derby County Football Stadium as seen from within The Sanctuary.
Curlew Sandpiper just visible in front of reed beds.
In 2005 we won a grant from the Aggregate Levy fund to build two raised viewing platforms which give access for the mobility-impaired. It also created special bare gravel habitats to encourage Little Ringed Plover to breed. Sadly, this schedule I bird has lost many of its bare ground habitats in Derby as the city has developed recently. But these delightful plovers still appear on The Sanctuary every year, showing the value of what we have been doing. We would not normally publicise their presence when nesting, for fear of attracting illegal egg collectors. But these are not normal times.

Sand Martins still nest in abundance in the huge artificial nest bank that you admired when you launched The Sanctuary in July 2004. This year some 50 birds are present – making it the largest of the three known sand martin nesting sites in Derby.

Left to right: Nick Moyes (Derby Museums), Margaret Beckett MP,
Cllr Ruth Shelton, Debbie Alston (DWT)
Who can fail to be moved by the song of the skylark, when its musical notes are heard trickling down from the blue sky above? Their presence here, right in the heart of Derby, was one of the main reasons The Sanctuary was created. They can be heard at Pride Park each summer, singing high in the air above the reserve, but are probably missed by most footballers coming to Derby’s Park and Ride car park on match days. The large raised mound that securely holds most of Pride Park’s contaminated waste was specially hydra-seeded, and has since encouraged both skylark and lapwing to nest here. The short rushy pasture right next to Derby County Football Stadium is also a super place for these magical little birds to be seen.

In 2007 Alan Titchmarsh’s Nature of Britain BBC TV programme  featured The Sanctuary in a regional look at urban wildlife. But despite the publicity, and with so many other key bird species like reed bunting, little grebe, green woodpecker, kestrel, whitethroat, meadow pipit so easily visible, The Sanctuary still unfortunately remains one of Derby's hidden gems. We offer free car-parking to anyone wanting to come just to look into the reserve, rather than use the Park and Ride car park for its intended purpose. We just ask them to sign in at the ticket barrier, though of course its not open on Sundays. It may not be as well known as Derby's other wildlife spectacle  - the Cathedral's peregrine falcons - but most importantly The Sanctuary still continues to do its prime job in protecting key bird species from disturbance. And all within just a 15 minute walk or a short cycle ride from Derby City Centre.

Sadly, it's cycling itself that now threatens the survival of The Sanctuary Local Nature Reserve. A multi-sports arena and velodrome was recently approved in outline to be built on the adjacent Park&Ride car park.  The Council will not reveal the precise extent of the velodrome's footprint, "as the specification for the building has not yet been completed".

We were so grateful for your support back in 2004, and we may welcome your support once again should it transpire that Derby City Council does indeed plan to cycle rough-shod over a designated Local Nature Reserve, and all the wildlife that it so successfully protects.

Yours sincerely

Nick Moyes
(former Keeper of Natural Sciences, Derby Museum & Art Gallery, and Sanctuary Project Team member.)

Background Resources
For anyone wanting to assess the likely damage that could occur from the City Council's velodrome proposal, just compare the aerial photograph of the site against the artists impression on Page 8 of the the Leisure Services Strategy. Feel free to draw your own conclusions before we hear the final proposals from the Council at some later date.

Photos from The Sanctuary at Pride Park, Derby
Lapwing, with Derby County Football Stadium behind.
(Photo S.Whitehead)
Little Ringed Plover can be seen at The Sanctuary most years.
(Photo N.Moyes)
Wheatear - a passage bird, but some suspicion of breeding in past years.
(Photo: N Moyes)
Sand martin flying into artificial nest bank at The Sanctuary.
(Photo S. Whitehead)
Curlew Sandpiper - The Sanctuary's first rarity!
(Photo N. Moyes)

Sand Martin. Each year around 25 pairs bred successfully at Pride Park.
(Photo S.Whitehead)

To visit The Sanctuary, walk or drive into the Park & Ride car park next to Derby County Football Stadium. Birdwatchers travelling by car should stop before the barrier and ask the security man to let them sign for a free ticket. This lets you exit without paying - though you'll still need to collect ( and destroy) the one given to you by the machine to raise the barrier. 
The Park & Ride service operates from 7am-7pm Mon to Sat. Unfortunately,there is no access to view The Sanctuary on Sundays.

1 comment:

  1. Update:
    On 24th June I received a helpful reply from Mrs Beckett. It contained a copy of a letter from a very senior official within Derby City Council assuring her that the development will not require any land within The Sanctuary. This is indeed good news, and we will watch carefully for any shift in this position and engage with the formal consultation process in due course.