Wednesday 27 March 2024

Offensive fence offences

The battle for the fence is in full swing. On the one side, the birdwatchers of Wanstead Flats, the local wildlife group, and the Corporation of London. On the other, a small band of pathetic local vigilantes. Each morning the birders and wildlife volunteers find small sections of the fence cut, and each morning they repair it with spare rope that they carry. The next morning we find that it has been cut again and so we repair it again. This happens literally every day. It is quite tiresome and detracts from birding, but at the same time the damage is repaired very quickly and the integrity of the fence restored. Damaged or undamaged, it is having the desired effect of keep people and dogs out of the main Skylark breeding areas.

The damage is almost always where the footpaths intersect with the fence, a clear message that a person's right of way trumps wildlife. Sometimes a real rage descends, and not only is the rope near the paths cut but also anywhere where there is a sign about Skylarks. Sometimes the signs themselves are hacked to pieces. The mind boggles, really it does. Can you imagine a grown adult becoming so incensed with a sign about protected birds that their reaction is to kick it down and cut it up? I can't. This is the reponse of a truculent child, a spoilt brat. Every evening, or early morning, or possibly in the middle of the night, they sneak out with scissors or a knife and engage in this petty vandalism. No doubt it makes them feel good, important, untouchable and full of anti-woke virtue. They need to have a long hard look at themselves.

Some mornings after this red mist the damage is so severe and the Corporation has to send out a team to repair entire lengths of it. Last week I was first on site and discovered over 60 sections of fence cut through, signs slashed and thrown to the ground. As you might expect CoL are getting a little fed up of it, and rightly so. Lines have been drawn, the Police are involved, and they are out to catch the perpetrators. There is now CCTV, and signs warning of this. One person has already been caught in the act, a dog walker who in the middle of the day and casually as you like approached the fence, cut it, walked through the gap and all the way across the Skylark area before cutting the fence at the other end and walking out. Entirely deliberate, brazen. Happily they've been identified and the various follow ups that you would expect are apparently in hand. On another day a jogger decided to hop over the fence and carry on down the main path; they were apprehended on the spot by the Epping Forest Constables and told in no uncertain terms that they would not be doing that again. Turns out there was a language barrier, but at the same a physical barrier is a physical barrier and you shouldn't need to be able to read a sign to understand that a fence is there for a reason.

But the strong feeling is that the main vigilante, or possible several, are still out there and remain deeply committed to sending their message. So be it. They're outnumbered, out-gunned, and ultimately they are ineffectual - the fence remains, the Skylarks are within it and are singing away. No doubt these people are very pleased with themselves but that will change when they're caught. This isn't a one off, a mistake, oops, mea culpa. Every time the fence is damaged we're photographing it, sending the evidence to the Corporation, and a case is being built. As well as cameras there are now also patrols, official and unofficial, and we're collectively all committed to finding and stopping these people. And when that eventually happens, as surely it must as we've only got to get lucky once, they're not going to be let off with a slap on the wrist. It's gone way beyond that at this point. Watch this space.


  1. Hmmm. This puts me in mind of my beloved Epsom Common which has two main ponds, one for fishing and a bigger one for nature. Obviously the big pond was poached ruthlessly by the local oiks, and after several lengthy chats with said oiks I grew fed up, filled my pockets with gravel and basically lobbed it all around their floats for a coupe of hours. And yes, blows were traded and somehow I came out as the bad guy, a view which was not changed inside the magistrates court. So be wary of your 'unofficial' patrols, be wary of folks throwing the "no speakie Engleesh" cards, be wary how far you want to take this. Because there are plenty of nutters out there with nothing better to do than to remember the guy with binoculars and come back for you next year. Or the year after. CCTV is good, police, much as it hurts me to admit it, are also good. "Watching this space" is less good, in my opinion.

    1. It's a fair point Seth, and we are under no illusions that a) the person is not quite right as well as being very angry, and b) carrying a blade, so we're not bristling for a confrontation. But we are doing what we can to help - ie there are volunteers manning the fence when possible, in high viz, and engaging with passers some, most of whom are willing to be engaged with which is good news. But if we can gather evidence of this vandalism (and many birders carry cameras) then we're passing this along. No damage this morning and one of the previous known culprits was on site, so perhaps it's working.

  2. These nutters are carrying knives in public!

  3. So upsetting that there are multiple offenders. But there are many people who don't obey signs these days. Down here on the seafront there are multiple "no cycling" signs on the footpaths, yet I am repeatedly nearly taken out by cyclists when walking