LOCAL conservationists have this week defended plans by the National Trust to lease Frensham Little Pond to the RSPB, amid growing fears that they would be "giving the land away". The two preservation charities explained that they are currently in lengthy negotiations regarding a lease while attempting to quash any chance of a public outcry. Although making it clear that nothing has been agreed as yet, the RSPB hinted at plans to merge the pond with the adjoining Bourne Woods, already under the management of the Farnham Heath Project. "From a conservation point of view the bigger the better," explained Mike Coates, RSPB Farnham Heath Project manager. "There will be more room for the different species to move around and this will be beneficial to the project." He sought to reassure the public that there would be no change to the pond in terms of access and that contrary to public opinion, the society is not priming the land for development. "Frensham Little Pond is very different from the rest of the Farnham Heath reserve and most of the tree felling around the pond has already been done over the years by the National Trust. There's little woodland there that can be restored to heathland reasonably. "I'd like to take this opportunity to say categorically that there is not, never has been or ever will be any intention to prepare the land for development. We don't spend our members' money doing things like that." The project, which could see around 70 per cent of the Bourne Woods felled according to Mr Coates, is an ongoing 10-year transformation of woodland into natural heathland to preserve a scarce and dying habitat. Now in its third year, the project is worrying some residents who feel disheartened at the loss of an old and familiar landscape. One Hindhead resident who did not wish to be named, labelled a possible take-over of land by the RSPB as "appalling" and not in keeping with the wishes of those who donated the land in the first place. He said: "If this lease or give away goes ahead then I like other local people will need to think twice about giving money to the National Trust. I may as well give it directly to the RSPB or the local donkey sanctuary and cut out the middle man." Sarah Emmott, a Tilford resident living close to a patch of recently felled trees, has expressed her concern about the changes taking place to the countryside around her home. "The whole thing is barking mad," she said. "They only started a few weeks ago but they've taken out so many trees now that my home has been left in the middle of a wind tunnel. It used to be quiet and peaceful, but now all we hear is the wind rushing past. It's awful that we have to lose those woods in this way and there are a lot of people here who are very angry about it all." The trust, which promises to preserve, manage and protect land "forever and for everyone" echoed sentiments made by the RSPB, explaining that plans to lease the site are still in early stages. Crispin Scott, the National Trust property manager for the West Weald, brushed aside public accusations, reminding residents that "it's not a new issue". He explained that the charity would seek to "get the best of both worlds" in leasing the land, drawing on expertise from both camps. "We certainly won't be giving the land away," he told The Herald. "It will still be National Trust land, which can't be sold without an Act of Parliament. What we are talking about is a lease, similar to the lease Waverley hold to manage the Great Pond." He explained that a possible solution might see the RSPB managing the site under lease and working toward a management plan agreed with the trust and local user groups. Public fears were sparked over the Christmas weekend when the car park at the pond was closed. Mr Scott explained that he wasn't aware of the gates being shut and apologised for any inconvenience caused. He also went on to confirm public fears relating to the loss of a warden at the site, outlining a long-term plan not to employ one on the ponds. He added: "We've restructured our staff, but we have a team based at Hindhead who will be covering Frensham Little Pond. "At present we are still discussing the idea of a lease. Nothing has been finalised and nothing will be signed without a management plan that will be discussed with all user groups. I suppose the discussions are expected to go on for several months."
Alarm over Little Pond lease to RSPB
Friday 5th January 2007 12:00 am