A CONSERVATIONIST claims new security measures proposed for a nature reserve on an army base could cost it newly won national status.

Foxglove Covert Local Nature Reserve, at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, has just become the top site in the UK for supplying scientists with data on bird movements and populations, underlying important environmental changes.

That designation was achieved by volunteers spending thousands of hours catching, ringing and releasing birds on the reserve over the last 21 years - never missing a single target date set by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) which organises and analyses the scheme.

Sophie Rainer, a former manager at Foxglove, fears proposed new security measures could cost the reserve it’s new national recognition – just as it has been won.

New garrison commander Colonel Stephen Padgett is considering replacing the reserve’s existing entrance with a four mile ‘bypass’ crossing a busy training area and ending in a half mile walk for volunteers from a new proposed car park.

Ms Rainer said: “Naturalists, bird ringers and beekeepers cannot be expected in all weathers, often in darkness at unsocial hours to carry heavy equipment 600 metres from their cars.

"The additional distance that would be created by a new parking area would deter these people.’’

She has written to Colonel Guy Deacon, chairman of the reserve’s management committee saying: “It would make a mockery of the MoD and be a loss to science and conservation alike.”

Alison Kew, organiser of the BTO ‘s monitoring scheme, told The Northern Echo: "The site at Catterick collected data from more individual birds in 2013 than any of the other 125 across the UK, clearly demonstrating the immense contribution that a small number of focused volunteers can make to conservation."

Col Padgett, says he is wholly supportive of the reserve, but in an earlier statement said: “It is necessary to ensure that enabling access to volunteers and the general public does not compromise the essential security of Ministry of Defence personnel and assets.’’

The existing access has been honoured by all his predecessors and is guaranteed in a legal agreement, while there has never been a security incident in the reserve’s history.