NEW security measures would force people visiting an acclaimed nature reserve to cross an army training area used by soldiers and military vehicles.
Nationally renowned Foxglove Covert Local Nature Reserve at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, was the first to be established on Ministry of Defence land.
However, moves to change the access to the reserve - popular with both birdwatchers and families - has angered the local community.
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Colonel Stephen Padgett, the camp's new commander, proposes building a new road to replace the current access which winds past empty barrack blocks - but is guaranteed in a legally binding tenancy agreement.
The suggested new four-mile long detour would pass through an training area used by soldiers on exercise where blank rounds are fired.
It would also leave the reserves volunteers and visitors a 600m walk to the field centre - and, critics claim, waste thousands of pounds of public money.
Long-standing reserve volunteers are considering quitting in protest while retired Major Tony Crease, the creator of Foxglove Covert, has stepped down as the charity's treasurer.
Tony Clark, managing director of Richmondshire District Council, said it has not officially been contacted by the MoD.
"However, through the management committee, we have heard of the MoD's proposals to amend the access road to Foxglove Covert. We will be making contact with the MoD to clarify the proposals," he said.
Col Padgett says the reserve is a "tremendous and valuable" feature and he is wholly supportive and committed to its sustainability.
"It is necessary to ensure that enabling access to volunteers and the general public does not compromise the essential security of MoD personnel and assets,'' he added.
Colonel Guy Deacon, chairman of the Foxglove Covert Nature Reserve charity, claims visiting school parties can continue using the reserve's existing entrance, under escort.
But he supports the idea of a new access road for other visitors, stating: "This new route will provide easy access for many, many more people who are currently daunted by getting through the gate as it is, so we will be fulfilling our remit."
However, there has been no security scare in the reserve's 21-year history and critics point out that a new open entry point could create, not eradicate, such a risk.