Image: Tony Crofts

Whenever the warmer weather hits we see a big increase in damaging littering/fly tipping, dangerous behaviour and trespassing at Millennium Country Park. Even through lockdown when large gatherings weren't permitted by law, we had multiple incidents of illegal gatherings and antisocial behaviour at our award-winning site.

Areas of the site that we purposefully don't signpost or restrict access to - for wildlife or visitor safety concerns - are repeatedly used and abused by a small minority of inconsiderate people intent on destroying the beautiful scenery, facilities and wildlife habitat. The Park is a community resource and we want to keep it that way, but as private landowners we also have a responsibility to protect all of our visitors and this space that we all love.

In order to address these issues and protect our Park, the Ranger team have thought very carefully about what preventative measures could be put in place, and worked hard with our contractors and partners to come up with new physical security measures. A big thanks to Corporate Friend of the Forest MH Agricultural Ltd for working with us to source and install the necessary furniture.

Gates to protect open space from vehicle access

Towards the end of 2020 we noticed what looked like vehicle tracks entering the meadow near the sewage works. On closer look we found that not only had people driving onto the meadow without permission, but also doing doughnut manoeuvres that were causing real damage to the landscape and decimating areas of long grass that we were trying to maintain and improve for wildlife benefit as part of the Higher Level Stewardship scheme.

To stop this from happening in the future we've now installed bollards and a new gate at the access point. There is a permitted footpath which runs along the edge of the meadow next to the sewage works so we have opted for bollards to maintain easy access for people but keep out any more of these unwanted visits.

Working with Stewartby Watersports Club to safeguard the shoreline at Stewartby Lake

The main area of concern for us was at an area at the edge of Stewartby Lake known locally as "the beach". The position of the beach (off the main path and right down at the waters edge) had made it a popular site for antisocial and illegal behaviour.

Over the years we've received an increasing number of reports of dangerous activities that aren't permitted on site like BBQs, open fires and unauthorised swimming, as well as almost unmanageable levels of litter and fly tipping and - through lockdown - illegal large gatherings.

Fires can be as devastating to wildlife and habitats as they are to people and property. Naked flames and hot ashes can gain momentum and become out of control fires very quickly (no matter how controlled you may consider them to be) especially in wooded areas like Millennium Country Park.

Swimming in the lake is strictly prohibited. The landform at the shoreline is unpredictable, and can drop off into deep water very quickly - it's also very difficult to see, and spot any hazards in the water. The lake is also leased, for exclusive use, to Stewartby Watersports Club, so at any given time there can be activities on the water that make it too dangerous for swimmers.

Despite our team spending much time and resources educating visitors on the dangers of that stretch of water and having open fires, clearing up after parties and liaising with the local police team when necessary, this continues to be a problem area and we have made the decision to restrict public access to this area over safety concerns.

A new fence and gate has been installed to restrict access, and we'll be continuing our relationship with the management team at Stewartby Watersports Club and working together to maintain the newly protected area and manage access for their members only as part of the lease agreement.

The following is only some of the discarded and dangerous waste collected by our Ranger team from the beach over 2 consecutive weekends earlier this year...

We also found evidence of recently extinguished open fires, along with: sweets wrappers, large plastic bags, small clear plastic bags, tetra pak juice containers, cans (empty and full), crisp packets (empty and full), broken glass, a damaged inflatable lilo, casing from a camping chair, rusty door handle and screws, polystyrene blocks, discarded underwear, socks - and much more.