Photographers cause a flap at Suffolk reserve

Dunwich Heath National Trust staff members Richard Gilbert and Alison Joseph Dunwich Heath National Trust staff members Richard Gilbert and Alison Joseph

Thursday, May 1, 2014
3:22 PM

Over-zealous wildlife photographers on Dunwich Heath are threatening the wellbeing of one of Britain’s rarest breeding birds, conservationists fear.

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A series of recent incidents involving photographers encroaching into the heather at the National Trust’s Dunwich Heath to obtain close-up images of Dartford warblers has prompted the trust to take action.

The species is often elusive and difficult to observe and enjoys the top level of legal protection afforded by the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It is on the act’s “Schedule 1” and is highly sensitive to disturbance.

Despite it being the breeding season, trust staff say some photographers had recently been seen well away from the heath’s many paths, far too close to nest sites and even trying to lure the warblers onto the heather tops by playing recordings of the species’ song, a highly controversial practice known as tape-luring.

The trust staff have produced a leaflet for photographers and birdwatchers which urges them to adhere to a code of responsible, law-abiding behaviour.

Richard Gilbert, the trust’s senior ranger for the site, said: “We are trying to raise awareness of a problem that has grown, particularly over the last five or six years in my experience. There is now a lot of technically advanced and economically available photography equipment around but unfortunately the advances have not been matched by the capability and experience of some photographers.

“We do recognise that there are other pressures on these birds as well and we do not want to come across as being against photographers. We are trying to be even-handed but we are trying to educate people that there has to be a balance struck that is for the benefit of our wildlife and the enjoyment of all our visitors.”

The trust’s visitor experience manager for the heath, Alison Joseph, said the leaflet was produced after a serious incident involving photographers from Essex.

“There were more photographers on the heath than birds that day – it was amazing,” she said.

“They were tape-luring all day and I spent all day dealing with it, talking to people and explaining about the problem.

“There are other issues, such as dogs off leads and rubbish-dumping, and we would be grateful to be told of any such incidents – people can tell

us if they are not confident about challenging the people concerned themselves and we will go and investigate, hand out leaflets and talk to people.”

The leaflet, which also refers to another rare breeding bird of the heath, the nightjar, urges people to keep to the heath’s paths, not to linger in one spot for too long and not to tape lure the birds.

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