Updated statement on Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve

Monday 11th January 2016

In August 2015, the Trust issued a statement outlining the threats to Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve, given that no future funding had been agreed by PMML for the Trust to continue to manage the nature reserve. Since then, the Trust’s representative on the Board of PMML has continued to call for Cllr Nigel Ashton to convene a Board meeting to discuss the situation and agree a way forward, but without success. In recent months the Trust has also met with Cllr David Pasley and proposed a potential solution to the long-term management of the nature reserve.

The Trust has repeatedly stressed its willingness to continue to be involved in the management of Portbury Wharf, given the significant investment the Trust has made in its creation and success to date. However, to date, we have not received any feedback from our meeting with Cllr David Pasley or been requested to provide any information or costs of potential management options that may inform the Council’s forthcoming reports.

Ultimately, the freehold of the nature reserve resides with Persimmon Homes, and whilst they have recently contacted the Trust to understand our position, we were not asked at any stage to continue our management from January 2016 by either Persimmon or North Somerset Council.

The Trust have now completed the last scheduled volunteer day with the volunteer group at Portbury Wharf. Without an agreed budget and management arrangement in place with PMML from January, our insurance is invalid and all of our equipment has now been removed from site. We have also ceased our arrangements that provide basic office space for the reserve warden.

At this time of year we would have normally signed grazing agreements with the 3 graziers who graze the reserve with livestock at different times of the year. An appropriate grazing regime is essential to the wildlife habitat management, and this would normally begin in March. This issue needs addressing now, as the graziers are inevitably looking for alternative options for their stock. We would have also scheduled volunteer days and commissioned contractors to clear parts of the ditch network in January and February, both to maintain wildlife habitat and to ensure the areas flood defences function effectively.

North Somerset Council has now agreed with Persimmon to take on temporary responsibility for the reserve. Council officers have asked the Trust to advise them on the future management plan for the site and address the immediate priorities outlined above. The quality of the nature reserve is our primary concern, and the Trust is supporting the Council in this regard for free. Given that, we find Cllr David Pasley’s statements in the media suggesting the Trust has walked away from Portbury Wharf highly misleading. It is also disappointing that some basic facts about the situation, such as the annual levy charge for householders (which is £54 with assurances this will not rise), are often misrepresented to the media. The chaos surrounding the future management of the nature reserve was entirely created by the leadership of North Somerset Council and Cllr Nigel Ashton's letter to Village Quarter Residents in March 2015.

Contrary to walking away from a nature reserve, the Trust values it highly and has invested significantly in it, and we feel we have been forced out of having responsibility for it.

Given the clear political will and processes, we continue to work under the assumption that the Trust will not have any involvement in the future management of the nature reserve. The Trust's concerns remain that the future quality of an important wildlife habitat is maintained, and that commitments to offset the development of 2,600 houses by funding a nature reserve in perpetuity are upheld. The situation around Portbury Wharf raises serious concerns about the credibility and validity of any future ecological mitigation agreements.

We will continue to demand transparency in any decisions affecting the above. We also continue to call for the Board of PMML to meet and discuss the situation, which they have yet to do.

We hope this statement helps to answer the numerous enquiries we receive on this issue and clarifies our understanding of the situation for interested parties.