Bystock Pools sale: public access fears

PUBLISHED: 13:48 23 February 2015 | UPDATED: 13:48 23 February 2015

Bystock Pools. Ref exe 8166-08-15AW. Picture: Alex Walton

Bystock Pools. Ref exe 8166-08-15AW. Picture: Alex Walton

Archant

Exmouth's Bystock Nature Reserve, one of the most beautiful and important havens of its kind in the country, will be sold to the highest bidder.

‘For Sale’ signs were nailed to a wooden fence outside the tranquil 62-acre enclave this week.

And now a 99-year lease, worth an estimated £155,000, will be auctioned off on Thursday, March 26.

Owned by South West Water (SWW), it is sub-let to the Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT).

And despite SWW’s assurances, Bystock’s volunteer custodians fear that new owners could find a way to bar public access.

Such was the concern, flowers were placed next to the sign as if to say ‘rest in peace’.

Also called Bystock Pools, the idyllic area is Exmouth’s ‘jewel in the crown’.

Opened to the public 20 years ago, it boasts heath, grass, scrub and woodland and pools.

Each ‘micro’ habitat has its own distinctive wildlife, with half the UK’s butterfly species thriving there.

It also boasts a slew of environmental ‘protections’, including being a Site Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Regular visitor Kevin Rookes said: “It’s a truly special area - many people love it.

“There is concern that the lease could be sold to someone who might try to stop the public access.”

Volunteer warden Roger Hamling said SSSI status was recently removed from a similar reserve at Chattenden Woods in Kent for new homes and added: “Some government departments are more bothered about these protections than others.

“There’s no reason why a rich landowner couldn’t buy it and say ‘no entry’.

“The DWT opened it to the public out of the goodness of their hearts; we manage Bystock day-to-day, and we don’t know what’s going on.”

He added: “We are worried. I’m sure if the DWT could afford to bid for it they would, but we haven’t heard anything.”

A spokesman for SWW said: “We regularly auction redundant assets to… keep customers’ bills as low as possible.

“It is expected that a sub-lease will be granted to the DWT, but in the event of the trust withdrawing from this arrangement there will be a requirement on the leaseholder to maintain this important ecological site in accordance with Natural England’s recommendation.”

DWT was unable to comment at the time of going to press.

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