CONCERNS have been raised about the impact on nesting birds if plans to register a meadow as common land go ahead.

Durham County Council is considering a proposal to turn the field in Aykley Heads, Durham, into common land to replace a section of registered land at The Sands, in the city centre, where it wants to build its new headquarters.

The meadow, which is to the east of the Rivergreen Centre, close to the existing County Hall, is currently fenced off and people are forbidden from entering it because of nesting birds on the site.

Billy Mollon, from Framwellgate Moor, a retired gardener who worked as a voluntary countryside ranger in nearby Aykley Woods for about 11 years, said he was aware sky larks and pheasants had nested on the land in the past.

He said: “As far as I know common land has to be open to the public and the ground nesting birds won’t be nesting if people are walking there and dogs are running there.

“I feel strongly that we should be trying to save wildlife.

The Northern Echo:

The proposed common land site at Aykley Heads, which is home to nesting birds

“It seems they are just desperate to find common land but why pick on nature?”

The area is also known to be a habitat for great crested newts, which are known to breed in nearby ponds.

Susan Robinson, head of corporate property and land at Durham County Council, said: “Our proposal to relocate the common land to a meadow to the east of the Rivergreen Centre follows careful consideration of a number of factors. This includes an ecological assessment of the potential impact.

“Whilst the area is used by nesting birds, any impact can be mitigated by signage during the breeding period requiring people to take extra care and to keep dogs on a short lead.

“Any adverse effects on great crested newts would be minimal, as the meadow is not a breeding site but part of a much wider habitat network. The character and nature of the meadow will remain unaltered.”

The council wants to create the new piece of common land to replace a section at The Sands, which it is seeking to de-register.

It plans to build a civic building on land currently occupied by The Sands car park and adjoining coach park.

The Northern Echo:

The existing coach park in Durham, which is registered as common land

The coach park, which the council is planning to move to Belmont Park and Ride, on the outskirts of the city, is currently registered as common land. It has been used as a coach park since the 1990s.

Designated common land gives people a number of rights, including public access on foot – also known as the “right to roam” – as well as things like the right to graze livestock, take peat or turf, collect wood, fish and to allow pigs to eat acorns.

An application will be made to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government following the council’s consultation.