Promoting observation, free range exploration, sense of place and citizen science, through the field notes of a naturalist.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Renegades of the edgelands

Diverted from gull watching by car parking restrictions and road closures in Newport I returned to the valleys for some peace and tranquility, seeking refuse in the peri-urban environment of Blaenavon.

A pair of in flight calling Canada geese alerted me to a couple of wild water swimmers in Keepers Pond. But it was not long before my efforts at escapism and some breathing space was thwarted by the loudening approach of a posse of quad bikers. And so it was to be, a couple of hours outdoors was remarkable not for the recording of the first summer migrant but for the amount of off road activity - they were ubiquitous! Total group counts were as follows:-

Quad bikers - 3 + 3+ 2 = 8

Scrambler bikes - 5+ 5+ 3+ 2 = 15

Three quad bikers passed at speed but were respectful in sharing the time of day. However, within a few minutes I was surprised to come across them again. On this occasion they were tending to a break down to one of the bikes, As I approached an inquiry was made as to whether I had a screw to fix a puncture. I responded negatively, wondering if I looked like the type of person that carried a DIY kit on a walk in the countryside, nonetheless this was promptly followed by a supplementary question. 'Wha' you after'? I quipped  I was a naturalist. There was an instant deafening silence as the three hapless mud covered bike riders stood motionless mentally computing my response. Within a few seconds I was around the toe of a nearby coal tip and out of sight, far enough away to avoid the need to explain that a naturalist isn't a person that takes his/her clothes off in public!

This set the tone for my outing. Bikers appeared with depressing regularity often emerging on top of a tip pausing to rev their machines menacingly whilst pondering their next move, and with the sun rising behind them reminiscent of a scene from the Planet of the Apes. These renegades of the edgelands are  free spirits who ride the landscape with impunity, sticking a metaphorical two fingers up to those wishing to prevent them. Illegal it is, controllable it isn't!

Away from the roller-coaster micro landscape that is Canada Tips, bikers race along linear desire lines in the macro landscape that on quieter days are populated  by only sheep, skylarks and the occasional walker accompanied by the ever present brisk breeze. Here speed and peat are the fun ingredients. If you're unfortunate to be facing the on coming bike traffic you're obliged to give way and step aside, doff your cap and say good day sir, for to do otherwise risks injury.

Okay there maybe some beneficial ecological spin offs resulting from this type of habitat disturbance as it helps reset the successional clock. However, this is repeated uncontrolled damage on a grand scale that's replicated throughout the valleys and the authorities are powerless to prevent it.

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