Vandals put future of rare birds at risk

The future of some of the country's most endangered bird species is being put under further threat at a Fakenham nature reserve thanks to mindless vandalism, its warden said last night.

Jed Andrews, warden at the Hempton Marsh reserve on the protected Wensum Valley, said their limited resources were needed to ensure they managed the habitats on the wetland to try and boost populations of birds such as the willow tits and marsh tits, which have almost died out.

But instead they have had to use much-needed funds to repair one of the hides on the reserve that was targeted by vandals last week.

Mr Andrews, who was one of the Norfolk Ornithologists' Association members who successfully bid for lottery funds to create the reserve, said the hide was locked but someone had clearly jumped on the roof and smashed through it, breaking a shelf that bird-watchers use to lean on when studying the wildlife.

'Organisations like us have to scrape around for money so the last thing we want to do is put it towards repairs for mindless vandalism,' he said. 'It is completely demoralising.'

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He said the reserve had been targeted before and a previous spate of criminal damage had resulted in some young teenagers being caught red-handed smashing up bird feeders.

'We said to their parents that if they replaced them we would drop the charges, which they did. But a few days later they went missing again.

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'We will now have to think about extra security but that comes at a cost as well and it is difficult for a small organisation like us when we want to spend the money on the reserve, making it a better place for the wildlife and the visitors. We worked hard for the lottery funds and we have created a very popular place for bird-watchers.

'When I first heard about it I really thought 'what's the point in carrying on?' But the information we and the visitors gather at the reserve is vital to know when bird populations are crashing so we can manage the habitats better for them.

'There are so few wetland habitats left that places like Hempton are little gems. This marsh must have over 300 species of plants and over 50 bird species. I would like these vandals to think about the future because it is their children who will lose out if these places are lost.'

* The damage happened between 5pm on Tuesday, February 8, and 10am on Wednesday, February 9. Anyone with information should contact PCSO Sarah Kirby at Fakenham Police Station on 0845 456 4567 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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