Thousands of people want the Welsh Government to take over a nature reserve in Bridgend due to concerns with the current management of the site.
More than 6,000 people have signed a petition for the Welsh Government to buy Kenfig National Nature Reserve because a lease for managing the site has not been agreed almost a year after the local council stopped running it.
The petition asks the Welsh Government to consider using its powers to make a compulsory purchase of the land from its current owner, the Kenfig Corporation Trust (KCT), because the charity has failed to find a new company to run it.
The petition says the trust is a “secretive and unaccountable body” and a “compulsory purchase may be the only option left”.
KCT has been in discussions with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) over a new lease agreement for months but they are yet to make a deal.
In a joint statement, KCT and NRW said the trust has decided to employ a specialist to manage the reserve and NRW will help them to recruit a candidate.
They added: “Natural Resources Wales will work with the Trust to have a management agreement in place that will direct the working practices to support the rich variety of wildlife at Kenfig Nature Reserve.”
Conservationist Steve Preddy, who started the petition said the site needs to be managed by experts who can maintain the “specialised conditions” that the plants and animals need to survive on the site.
“This whole place needs to be managed properly and if Kenfig Corporation Trust doesn’t agree a management plan with an organisation that knows what they’re doing, then the exceptional interest of that place will disappear.”
The 1,300-acre reserve is located between Porthcawl and Neath Port Talbot, containing multiple species of plants, birds and animals - including the rare fen orchid. It is also home to Kenfig Pool, south Wales’ largest natural lake at 70 acres.
Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) previously managed the site but decided not to renew its lease for the land due to financial reasons. The council stopped running the it on December 31, 2019 after its lease expired.
BCBC’s cabinet member for regeneration Charles Smith said the reserve is “an extraordinarily complex and beautiful site” containing “one of the finest examples of a sand dune habitat in Europe”.
The Labour councillor said the council began discussions with the trust to appoint a new manager for the site in 2010 “but this aspiration was unfortunately not successful”.
He added: “We live in different times now, and while we may have been one of the few remaining councils to have done so, increasing restrictions on local government resources have meant that local authorities are no longer best placed to manage 1,300-acre nature reserves or sites of special scientific interest.
“We believe the site deserves to be run by an organisation capable of investing in it and enhancing the overall visitor experience while ensuring that it can remain financially sustainable."
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A spokesperson for NRW said: “After many months of lengthy discussions, both parties have agreed that we cannot proceed with a lease agreement. We are now exploring the possibility of a Nature Reserve Agreement for the future management of the site.
“Both NRW and KCT remain committed to managing the conservation of this protected site to safeguard the rare wildlife that thrives there, and to ensure it maintains its National Nature Reserve status.”
“Kenfig National Nature Reserve is already a fantastic natural resource. It has the potential to be so much more, and I call upon all parties at all levels to work together in a concerted effort to make this happen.”
The Senedd’s Petitions Committee will consider all petitions with over 5,000 signatures for a debate.