22nd Jan 2019
The WWT said The Berkeley Hunt caused a ‘huge disturbance’
A trail hunt took place on land near the Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire on Saturday, disturbing birds who live there and causing concern for many visitors.
The WWT, which doesn’t own the land at Slimbridge, said the hunt caused a ‘huge disturbance’ and that it would ‘never’ want the hunt in the nature reserve again.
Dan Colburn Smith, who lives in Bridgnorth in Shropshire, posted photographs on his Facebook page that he said showed the hunt in progress on Saturday.
He said the incident happened in fields while he and his wife were visiting the centre, which is world-renowned for the birds that flock to its wetland.
He said, in his post: “Really disgusted, was having a great day at Slimbridge WWT then suddenly the thousands of birds we were watching were scattered thanks to the local hunt chasing a fox through the field under Holden Tower hide.
“Bewick’s Swans, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Cranes and Widgeon absolutely panicked and flew out to the estuary.
“No Bewick’s Swans were calm enough to return by sunset to be fed at the centre.
“Slimbridge staff seemed understandably furious but sadly their hands are tied as the hunt have permission from the land owner.
“This area is an SSSI and the Severn Estuary is a designated Special Protection Area where the safeguarding of threatened birds is required by law.”
What the hunt said
The Berkeley Hunt said, in a statement: “We met on Saturday, January 9 2019 near to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge and were trail-hunting throughout the day.
“At one point, some hounds deviated from the trail and followed a line into an area overlooked by bird-watching hides.
“The huntsman and one assistant quickly retrieved the hounds without incident, causing minimum disturbance, and we were pleased to see the birds quickly returning to their routine.”
News of the incident prompted criticism of the centre from some people who felt its staff should have done more to stop it.
They posted messages on the centre’s Facebook page.
Lalla Bart-Greene said: “How can they manage it for nature when a hunt is allowed on this land? The 2 things are totally contradictory.”
But there was support for the centre, with Sam Gall saying: “It’s not their land… it belongs to the Berkeley Estate. They just manage it for nature (in which they do a fantastic job).”
What the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust said
A spokesman for the WWT said: "WWT does not allow hunting on any land we own. However, WWT doesn’t own the land at Slimbridge. Although we manage it for wildlife, it is part of the Berkeley Estate and the Estate retains the right to hunt on it.
"Understandably, many people including Slimbridge staff and volunteers are concerned and even outraged at witnessing the Hunt on the reserve on Saturday 19 January.
"Our ideal outcome would be for the Berkeley Hunt to never enter the Slimbridge reserve. This weekend’s hunt caused a huge disturbance at a particularly crucial time of the year for wildlife and as a result we have insisted that the Berkeley hunt think again about how they manage the hunt in this area."
What the police said
A spokeswoman for Gloucestershire police said: “We have received a report that a fox hunt took place in land off Newgrounds Lane in Gloucester at around 3.15pm on Saturday afternoon.
“The caller believed that this was part of the Berkeley Hunt.”
She was not able to say, at this stage, what action the police might take about the matter.
Newgrounds Lane approaches, and runs through, the Slimbridge Wetland Centre.
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