People are becoming increasingly concerned over the future of a nature reserve in Bridgend.
The Kenfig National Nature Reserve comprises about 1,300 acres of managed coastal sand dunes and wetlands on the coastline between Porthcawl and Port Talbot and is regarded as one of the finest examples of a sand dune habitat in Europe.
The reserve is home to many rare species of plants, insects, birds and animals.
It contains the UK’s entire population of the fen orchid and includes the clear waters of Kenfig Pool which, at 70 acres, is the largest natural lake in south Wales.
In the past five years the number of orchids at the reserve has soared from 200 to over 4,000.
However, locals fear all this is now at risk.
On December 31, Bridgend County Borough Council’s (BCBC) lease expires for the reserve after several decades of site management by local government.
But as yet, there has been no news from the reserve’s owners – the Kenfig Corporation Trust – on which organisation will take over the management.
The local authority has previously raised concerns over the lack of news due to the site’s complexity and the need for a suitable handover period for any new organisation to find out what’s involved and ensure a smooth transition.
Now, a Facebook group has been created to highlight the uncertain situation over the future management and to try to engage with its trustees.
Heather Protheroe, who set up the group, lives near the reserve and said the community was becoming increasingly worried.
She said: “My main concern is when BCBC leaves the site at the end of this year there will be nobody left managing the reserve.
“I know Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has a commitment to make sure certain things are maintained.
“However, I really fear it’s going to become a site for fly-tipping, there’ll be no-one there to ensure people don’t take their bikes up there and there’ll be no-one to promote it, or look after it.
“The fen orchid is one of the rare species on the site and a lot of that is down to the site management by the warden and volunteers.
“If there’s nobody there to manage the land, what will the results be?
“It’s such a shame – it’s a fabulous reserve, unique in many respects.
“It’s a real jewel in the crown of Wales.”
She added: “I’m trying to get the trustees to talk to the community so the community can work with them to get the best resolution for the reserve and ensure the site is there for generations to come.
“People are keen to help, we want to help and perhaps by showing the strength of feeling in the community towards the reserve it could help in negotiations with any new management.
“But unfortunately we can’t get the trustees to talk to anybody which is quite frustrating.
“We understand that ongoing negotiations are sensitive and not for the public domain but we would very much welcome a little more insight and reassurance.”
The new Facebook group, Protect Kenfig Nature Reserve, currently has more than 2,400 members.
BCBC’s cabinet member for education and regeneration Charles Smith said time was running out.
He said: “What will happen in a few months time is that like any reasonable tenant, we will vacate the premises and leave it in the state the owner would expect.
“The ball is in the trustees’ court, we have done everything we possibly can.
“NRW is the backstop which would be a very minimal sort of service.”
County councillor for Pyle Jane Gebbie said: “All the residents are concerned they’re going to lose such a marvellous and beautiful site.”
While BCBC’s cabinet officially took the decision to no longer manage the reserve in December 2018 it has been in the pipeline for many years.
Council officers first began the process of trying to appoint a successor in 2010 but said they failed to make any progress with the landowner despite several years of spending “a lot of time and money”.
The local authority says it is leaving to make way for a more specialised organisation like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) or the Wildlife Trust to run the attraction on a more commercial basis and make it pay for itself in a sustainable way.
The council is understood to be the only local authority managing a nature reserve with a national designation, and a site of special scientific interest.
Cllr Smith has previously said while the council has the expertise to fulfil the lease, and maintain and improve the ecology on site, it doesn’t have the expertise to maintain the site into the future.
In a statement, the Kenfig Corporation Trust said: “The Trust continues to explore all possible options in relation to the reserve and remains committed to ensuring that any future party managing the same, builds upon the vision and values.”
Local democracy reporter