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Detective search for mystery landowners

…in project to save wildlife haven

Conservationists at the RSPB are embarking on a detective hunt across the UK to solve the mystery of who owns a valuable wildlife haven. And to make things even trickier, they aren’t looking for just one person – but dozens. In a failed 1970s scheme the land was split up and sold off as leisure plots for daytrippers.

The conservation charity is creating a major new nature reserve at Seasalter Levels, a large expanse of lowland wet grassland near the Kent seaside resort of Whitstable which is home to declining bird species including lapwings and redshank.

A partnership including the RSPB has already bought 100 hectares of the site, but the remaining land is part of a project in which plots of land were sold off to individuals more than 30 years ago. Records of who owns each plot are thin on the ground and now a search of the UK has begun to find the mystery landowners.

“We’ve employed a land agent to look for them but it is very difficult – it’s like trying to find the lost pieces of an enormous jigsaw so we can put it together,” said the RSPB’s Alan Johnson.“We had an initial series of meetings with the local community and asked people to come forward. But some of the plots are owned by people who have died and not passed them on while other owners may have bought one 35 years ago then moved away and completely forgotten about it. So we’re appealing to anyone who recalls owning one of these plots to get in touch with us as we’d love to buy them so we can complete the jigsaw and save this amazing landscape and the wildlife which relies on it.Many of the plots were originally bought by Londoners who would travel to Whitstable for daytrips and use them as private picnic spots.

Some of the plots are still being used as gardens while others have been turned into miniature nature reserves and the RSPB is in negotiations with their owners – but many others now stand empty and abandoned. The local council has repeatedly taken action in recent years against illegal buildings and caravans on the land as well as flytipping and raves. I don’t think we have ever taken anything like this on before,”
Alan continued. “This is quite an unusual place and we’ve got quite an unusual challenge on our hands here. But once we’ve managed to join all these plots together then it will be a great boost for wildlife as well as being a great boost for the area. At the moment the plotlands look very scruffy and run down. In its current state it is only living up to a fraction of its potential – but if we are successful this could be a truly amazing wildlife landscape.

Any owner interested in selling plots should contact Alan Johnson on (01634) 222480.

4th July 2014