RSPB plans for the Crook of Baldoon

THE recent publicity about the Crook of Baldoon and the ongoing controversy about how much of the area should remain open to wildfowlers prompted The Galloway Gazette to go to the unique salt marsh area near the County town to see the RSPB reserve there.

Andrew Bielinski, the RSPB Scotland Area Reserve Manager met with Gazette reporter Louise Kerr earlier this week to show her the Crook area and the RSPB’s plans to develop the land as both a haven for wildlife and as a visitor attraction after the wildlife charity purchased the site in 2010.

On a perfect day, the Crook was looking at its finest with views across Wigtown Bay to Cairnsmore, Cairnharrow and down the Stewartry coast.

The sweet song of a skylark was the soundtrack overhead and the breeze had the salty whiff of the seashore to it as Andrew pointed out why the vast saltmarsh and mudflat area was such a haven for birds, especially pink-footed and barnacle geese, but also redshank, curlew, golden plovers, skylarks, shelducks, wigeon, kestrels, sparrow hawks and lapwings.

The history of how the saltmarsh was formed is fascinating as the bay silted up after two breakwaters were built, it is believed, by prisoners captured during the Napoleonic Wars.

Looking over the flat marshland, Andrew explained that the RSPB work in tandem with local farmers who use the land for grazing from time to time. This is necessary as the short shoreline grasses have to be grazed regularly by livestock to keep them at a reasonable height.

If they grow unchecked the geese would soon move on. The Crook is monitored regularly by Scottish Natural Heritage to ensure that it meets with their standards.

The issue with the wildfowlers principally centres on a thin ten-metre strip of land that lies between the Crook of Baldoon, owned by the RSPB, and the foreshore, owned by the Crown Estates.

The RSPB want the area at the Crook covered by the Wigtown Bay Local Nature Reserve bylaws. Although the ten-metre strip at the heart of the debate has been part of the LNR since its designation in 1996, it has always been open to shooting with no management control or regulation through the byelaws. Andrew said: “We want to focus our visitor management here at the Crook around the steading buildings and in the north of the site where we hope to create a circular walk around ponds that will attract a greater variety of birds.

“We are not looking to ban the wildfowlers as we work with them throughout the year, but people coming especially to see the birdlife here might think it odd to see folk with guns.

“The shooting also disturbs the birds. We want to create an area that is a sanctuary for the birds. We are very aware that the Crook was partially bought with public money and we are investing in the site with the help of money from organisations like Leader and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“However, the majority of the purchase cost came from donations from our members and the public.

“The RSPB want to create a building with a viewing area and we are talking to the planners and SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) as part of our plans to create a visitor attraction the area can be proud of.

“The hope is not to detract from the visitor centres and attractions already in Wigtown. For example, the osprey viewing area in the County Buildings gets lots of visitors and we can then say go down to the Crook of Baldoon and get a different experience. And we don’t want to take away from cafes and businesses in the town either but add on what could be a wonderful year-round attraction.”