The Pebblebed heaths have provided an important site for public recreation since the signing of a recovable deed in 1930 by Lord Clinton granting allowance for the general public to ‘air and exercise’ on the area. Since that time many millions of individuals have visited the Commons to enjoy the views and to experience the wildlife.
The transference of the Common land of the heaths to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000) modernised access laws on the heaths, whilst ensuring greater protection to the site and providing for better management arrangements. Covering all the area registered as Common land, the Act allows for open-air recreation across the Commons, but excludes horse-riding, cycling, vehicles, organised games or any organised activities for commercial game. The CRoW Act permits the Estate to license activities such as organised horse-riding and cycling. For further information on the CRoW Act and activities permitted on the Pebblebed heaths, please click here. Any organised events, even those not for commercial gain, need to be agreed in advance with the Conservation Manager of the Pebblebed heaths. Agreement depends on the completion of an indemnity form and proof of appropriate insurance (found here). Certain recreation groups have a license to use the Commons, including a model aircraft club.
The latest available figures show that over 1.5 million staying visitors and about seven million day trips are made per annum to the region. Little is known about current visiting patterns to the Pebblebed Heaths, although educated estimates based on car park counters and surveys suggest that some 900,000 visits may be made a year. A high proportion of visitors tend to be adult walkers or dog walkers, with the majority driving to the site. Others include joggers, horse riders and cyclists.
There are currently 10 car parks on the heaths. There is also a considerable length of footpaths and bridleways, all of which require some maintenance.
Through education programmes and interpretation the Pebblebed Heath Conservation Trust promotes responsible recreation on the Commons. Although the public have complete right of access by foot, visitor pressure can have an impact on the habitats and wildlife. This includes erosion, predation of ground nesting birds, trampling, nutrient enrichment (especially by dogs close to car parks), and the introduction of invasive alien plants and animals. Although the effects of these are mostly local or restricted, they can sometimes cause major problems. Of particular concern are wildfires, most of which are started by humans. All fires on the heaths, including the use of BBQs are illegal. Heaths can take years to recover from a large, hot fire, and there can be long term effects on vegetation communities.
Fly-tipping and litter are also an unfortunate consequence of the heaths being close to human habitation and being heavily used. Because fly-tipping is increasingly a problem on the Commons, takes up staff time better spent undertaking more constructive conservation activities, presents a serious threat to wildlife and public health, and spoils public enjoyment of areas of outstanding beauty, we have a policy of contacting, pursuing and prosecuting known offenders. The depositing of controlled waste (which includes domestic rubbish) on the heaths is in contravention of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 section 33. Fines are unlimited if the case goes to the Crown Court.
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