05:45PM, Tuesday 21 July 2020
A ‘masterplan’ for Battlemead Common has been updated by the council – but one wildlife group says it is ‘dismayed’ by the proposals.
The 110 acres of land between Cookham and Maidenhead were purchased by the Royal Borough in December 2018.
An original plan for the land, off Lower Cookham Road, was created earlier this year after consultation.
The updated scheme – called The Ecological Management Plan – includes measures to ‘enhance wildlife’ while ‘giving greater public access’, according to the council.
Included in the plan is a new public footpath in the East Field, running parallel with the River Thames, with a dog-proof fence and hedgerow separating the path from the rest of the field, which is home to rare wildlife.
Other changes include the causeway path, which also runs through the East Field, opening during the warmer months from March to October. It will be closed from October to March to prevent disturbance of wildfowl.
Dogs will be allowed off the lead year-round in the West Field - but in all other areas that are open to the public, dogs will need to be kept on a lead.
Meanwhile, the Willow Woodland area in the southern part of the common will remain closed to the public.
The plan has been prepared by Austin Foot Ecology and will be reviewed after one year.
Battlemead Common has been at the centre of a number of disagreements about public access and ecological benefits.
Chairman of nature group WildCookham Mike Copland called the latest decision ‘ignorant’.
“We are very annoyed, we are dismayed,” he said.
“We have never said there should be no public access. All we have said all along is this is a prized piece of land.
“It is an amazing opportunity, which not many councils would have, to take land over which there are no public rights. Let’s look at how we can use that to maximise the biodiversity.
“We are quite dismayed as to what led them to make this rather ignorant decision.
“We are seeking meetings with the council to get this delayed. We are looking at all aspects of that, including legal possibilities.
“[But] we don’t want to do that.”
A Facebook group titled ‘Save Battlemead’ had been created since the new plan was formulated.
Cllr Donna Stimson, the council’s lead member for climate change and countryside, told the Advertiser: “I just believe in fair process. We have been thinking about this long and hard.
“What we decided was to [talk to] Austen Foot and ask them, say to them: ‘we are at an impass, we want to have biodiversity net gain, but we want compliance with the rules’.
“I know [some people] are upset about this, but I believe you are more likely to get compliance. We have already lost three or four birds to dogs who have been [on the land] without permission.
“You can have some of it [the land], and we are making it more secure.”
She added: “We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful habitat like this on our doorstep.
“We must do all we can to preserve and enhance the wildlife that occupy it, while also allowing residents to enjoy the area.
“I anticipate that walkers and those with dogs will respect the separate wildlife spaces, now that they have increased access. It is critical that dogs are not allowed to negatively impact on wildlife.
“I believe this fairer approach will encourage compliance, and all groups will be able to work together to protect the area.”
Dog walker Oliver Sharpe, who heads up the Facebook group ‘Battlemead Common – Our Dogs View’, was satisfied with the new plan.
He said: “It seems like [the council] has been really fair and have listened.
“Everyone should have a view, everyone should be listened to.”
Asked about whether he was happy about dogs having to be kept on leads in public areas outside of West Field, he added: “It is not ideal, but you know what, it is a compromise.”