Saturday, January 17, 2015

Spurn the YWT's New Visitor Centre location at Spurn!

Well, OK I know the title's a bit corny, but it might just grab the attention of a few more readers!!

I first started birding in the 1950's in the Barnsley area along with Yorkshire stalwarts like Dave Standring, Alan Archer, Mike Clegg ( now deceased ) and others. It was they who took me on my first visit to Spurn and I was captivated by the place. I first stayed at the observatory in 1958 and met with the likes of John Cudworth, Charlie Winn and many others , all of whom, together with my "local mentors", were utterly generous in their advice and guidance to a young birder.  It's hardly surprising that I love the place as it began to generate so many memories. Work and other factors have meant I've spent far less time there in recent decades than I should, but that's life. A fortnight there last September was much overdue and produced Masked Shrike as well!

Moving on over fifty years Spurn has seen many changes and yet, in other respects, its quintessential aspects remain.  Sadly the peninsula has now been breached and even the land mass involved has diminished significantly by continuing erosion. However, the site remains one of the premier locations in the UK to witness bird migration. To stand atop a narrow strip of land, with the North Sea on one side and the mighty Humber Estuary on the other, is not an experience to forgo.  Magical!  

Way back the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust ( YWT ), to its credit, bought the land from the MOD and granted Spurn Bird Observatory tenancy rights to operate as previously. That situation has continued to this day and, hopefully, will remain in place for the future. The Friends of Spurn ( linked to the observatory ) has even bought land themselves near to Kilnsea village and developed cover and habitat for birds and intends to do more of the same. Other projects such as the Kilnsea Wetlands have been developed as a consequence of  coastal defence work and the Beacon Ponds area  ( I'll still call it that !! ) has been improved for birds too. So much that might be called "improvements" has taken place set against other areas which have sadly been lost to erosion given this whole area of the East Coast of Yorkshire is such a physically dynamic environment.

I'd remind everyone that much of the peninsula environment is a designated area and valued not just for birds but for botanical and entomological reasons, as well as a "living site" at which geomorphological processes can be demonstrated.  Sadly a situation has emerged recently that has split locals, birders, conservationists and many others as far as their reaction is concerned. As at many sites of natural history interest the YWT  ( as a conservation organization and landowner too in this case ) wishes to build a Visitor Centre.  Nothing wrong with that one might say as surely we want more people to appreciate our natural heritage, provide support for it, study it and so on.  OK so far!  The trouble is the location chosen is not felt to be the most appropriate, in fact, it's felt to be downright ludicrous.



Thanks to Gareth Picton for providing this image.

Now time is of the essence so I'm not going to indulge in a " he said, she said" analysis, although I suspect the situation warrants it.  The YWT don't appear to have covered themselves in glory in the way that the plans have been revealed, presented and so on and the situation has now reached the predictable outcome of people being very much divided. The Centre is being sponsored and does look somewhat larger than was anticipated. Setting aside the cries of habitat loss, visual intrusion and so on , the simple question must be " Is this the right location for the Centre".  My feelings are entirely negative.  Any Centre should be on the approach to the peninsula in my opinion, even north of Kilnsea village,, from which the various walking routes, birdwatching hides etc etc can be pointed out and explanations given on the intrinsic value and importance of the whole area.  Instead the proposed Centre is  south/central to the overall "site", people have passed some of the opportunities they might usefully explore and , instead, are concentrated at a point with more limited options. Not everyone will want to walk down the Peninsula,  so a majority of attendant visitors will be concentrated in an smaller catchment area. But enter what I feel is part of the current Masterplan by the YWT!  A recent purchase of a special lorry ( with seats ) enables them to offer tours to the Point, for a given price, where no doubt visitors will be encouraged to view the Lighthouse which is under renovation, see the abandoned houses used previously by the lifeboat crew and generally have a little tour down Spurn ( at a price! ).  A bit of an adventure , maybe, but is that the best that can be offered for Spurn given its value and unique significance.  I'm sure there'll be the accompanying commentary about wildlife, but I'm not sure the facility will  provide much other than a journey for the " been there,done that punters ".  All this will be done under the guise of expanding the horizons of visitors , of course, but I suspect the underlying objective is a commercial one!

Alright, accuse me of being cynical, but I genuinely feel the sense of wilderness is being eroded away as much as the resource itself. I sincerely feel the proposed location is wrong in many respects. And  I don't believe either that a sufficient time has elapsed within which the YWT has been able to determine the level of future visitor traffic. I suspect this has reduced markedly since the breach occurred.  Another white elephant development with accompanying intrusion into natural habitat which, in the final analysis, resulted in a nett loss, yet again, for wildlife??   Time will tell.

So, what to do?    First of all, sign this petition which might yet put a halt to this current lunacy.
Proposed Visitor Centre at Spurn      Simply click on this link to be taken to the petition site and then SIGN but also PROMOTE , please!

Passions are inflamed about this and views are clearly entrenched. Not the best environment in which to determine such an issue in my opinion. The YWT appear to be treating the issue as a campaign to achieve success for their project, which I'm not sure is right. If you're feeling a bit sensitive about voting/signing , then don't.   However, don't dally as time is of the essence and there is a need to ensure an adequate opportunity now emerges within which some sensible discussions and evaluations can take place.  I, for one, would like to see the analysis the YWT based its site choice on and all the accompanying factors and objectives involved, but I guess you all know what happens to wishes!!!