TV WILDLIFE expert Iolo Williams is backing a major campaign warning that illegal off-roaders could threaten endangered bird species in North East Wales.
Black grouse are on an international red list of endangered species as the highest conservation priority and Iolo says it would only take one motorcycle or 4x4 to scare off breeding pairs.
The former RSPB man has thrown his weight behind the new campaign to protect internationally important heather moorland in North Wales from the menace of illegal off-road bikers and 4x4 drivers.
The Heather and Hillforts Project is also designed to protect ancient hillforts and burial chambers.
“Some areas of Wales are better patrolled or protected than others and this tends to push off-roaders into other areas. It is always a problem and you can see the scars left by these people for miles around.
“I hate to say it, but I don’t think some of them particularly care whether they are causing damage. It’s a problem for everyone – walkers, bird-watchers, landowners, farmers.
“It’s a constant battle. I can understand people wanting to go off road. I used to have a bike, a road one not off-road, and there’s nothing like the freedom, but you have to think about the landscape.
“People from all over Merseyside, the North West and the Midlands have good access into North Wales and come here to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the countryside.
“There is nothing more intrusive if you are enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside than the sound of off-road machines,” said Iolo.
Denbighshire Council’s Heather and Hillforts Project moorland field officer Nick Critchley said: “We’re delighted that such a recognised figure as Iolo is backing this campaign. He is internationally respected and has a keen interest in these moorlands and their conservation.
“We want to send out a positive message that there are places where people can enjoy off-roading legally, joining clubs and entering events or using the network of roads and byways available to licensed vehicles. We also want to educate and inform off-roaders and to encourage responsible and legal behaviour. But using vehicles beyond the network of roads and byways, without the permission of the landowner, is illegal and the damage this causes is unacceptable.”
The new campaign has a catchphrase “don’t leave home without it”. Farmers, ramblers and others are being urged to carry a special telephone number with them – or key it into their mobiles – to report the vandals. Offenders can be fined up to £20,000 and have their vehicles seized and crushed.
The police telephone number to report vandals is 0845 6071002 or 0845 6071001 for the Welsh language line.
The Heather and Hillforts Project covers the Clwydian Range Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Horseshoe Pass and Llantysilio Mountain, part of the Ruabon/Llantysilio Mountains and Minera Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the Berwyn and South Clwyd Mountains Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The campaign to protect them is backed by North Wales Police, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Forestry Commission Wales.
Mr Critchley said: “We have a fantastic natural environment here which is under threat but we are fighting back.
“We are urging people who go out in our countryside, including those legally using vehicles in the countryside, to carry this number with them so they can blow the whistle on this illegal, dangerous and damaging menace – the message is don’t leave home without it.
Iolo added: “It can cause all kinds of damage to sensitive wildlife, increase the risk of fires, increase the risk of accidents, cause difficulty with maintenance of paths and risks scarring the landscape.
“Black grouse are doing well in the Ruabon area. About a third of the Welsh population is there which is not a particularly good thing since it means all your eggs are literally in one basket, but it only takes one bike or 4x4 to scare them off for good.
“Our best chance of success is hopefully by appealing to the public for help in reporting any illegal activity.”
It’s not just birds, said Iolo, but some sensitive plants exist in the delicate heather landscape by supplementing what they get from the acid soil by eating insects. Any accidental spillage of petrol could also pollute and kill large areas.
The campaign, which also has the support of daredevil motorbike jumping star Jason Rennie, from Bwlchgwyn, near Wrexham, is urging off-roaders to join recognised clubs and use areas designated for their sport.
The police say that tearing around protected countryside is just as much anti-social behaviour as urban vandalism. Officers say they will use the force helicopter to catch offenders and warn they will bring down the full powers of the law to prosecute.
Half of the world’s heather moorland is in the UK and in Wales 40 per cent of it has been lost since the Second World War.
The three year Heather and Hillforts Project is developing a £2.3 million initiative for upland conservation work and has received a grant of £1.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
For more information visit www.heatherandhillforts.co.uk
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