Thursday, November 26, 2015

What a difference an hour makes!

Jan Crowther  ( Kilnsea, Spurn ) has kindly pointed me in the direction of two Comments on Mark Avery's Blog that were submitted in response to a Guest Blog by Professor John Lawton dealing with the Spurn Visitor Centre issue.

Both comments refer to the owners of property located not very far from the proposed Centre, namely Southfield Farm and the property immediately adjacent to the Blue Bell,  Both properties were offered to the Trust but not responded to.  I suggest all readers should acquaint themselves with both John Lawton's comments and those submitted by the two Kilnsea residents.

Quite frankly I find much of this extremely unsettling if not bizarre. So many subject areas spring from the page, not least value for money, but also the unresponsive attitude levelled at the above residents. Such  hardly smacks of effort being put into maintaining  harmony and integrating activities and local residents. In my view both properties would have created a combined base on which the objectives of the Trust associated with the proposed Centre could have easily transferred. I'm bewildered and that doesn't happen often!!!  

Spurn's proposed Visitor Centre.........the final stages?

Whilst I was away abroad I thought not infrequently about the proposed Visitor Centre at Spurn and what the final outcome might be.  I suspect that, sometime soon, the formal documentation will be submitted by the YWT to the Planning Authority who will then preside officially over the whole process and approve or reject the proposal.

Having witnessed some strange outcomes to planning matters in the past I mused further on what scenarios might apply following the Planning Officer's decision.  For instance, what ideas might arise should the proposal be rejected?  Are there other alternatives which could be considered?

When last I put out a Blog on the subject in September I attempted to highlight a series of issues and responsibilities that needed to be addressed . Some people thought this supported the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's position too overtly, which given my independent status wasn't the intention.  I contend that whoever was the owner or managing agent these obligations would need to be faced and, therefore, partisan support didn't enter the situation.  I suspect that these obligations and responsibilities will be considered as part of the application, particularly those associated with safety.  Of significant importance though is how will these be addressed if the proposal is rejected. Such circumstances will provide the YWT with an almighty headache at best!!

The decision on the application, presumably at some point in 2016, will no doubt please some people and bring bitter tears of disappointment to others. I still nurture a hope that a solution will emerge that doesn't involve a large built structure, although with the process nearing conclusion this hardly seems likely.  At the outset my feelings were very much centred on the fact that an insufficient number of visitors in the future would result in the proposal being a bit of a "white elephant".  I still worry that projections of future visitor attendance are over optimistic as the resultant income would not provide the YWT with the necessary funds it needs to run the site.  However, my basic feelings of concern  have changed and now rest on a completely different platform of issues , as outlined below.

First of all, let's look at what I believe  ( and I emphasize, these are my opinions ! ) is, currently,  a basic aspect of the YWT's case for a new centre. Following the breach of the peninsula, the income derived from visitors plummeted, a situation which would automatically affect the management capabilities and forecasts. The new Centre, already under discussion, thus provided an opportunity to concentrate visitors and provide facilities which would generate the income necessary for site management. I get the impression that , without the facility, the Trust felt it would be facing an extraordinary challenge. So, essentially that is the point we are at presently with, of course, the construction costs of the Centre being covered by Eon from its Community Fund.

But I'm still troubled !  Doubtless the following will be seen as pessimistic, even negative, but I believe it contains sufficient realism such that it should not be ignored.

The subject of periodicity of major storm events is more of an art than a science in my opinion. Based on historical records storm surges can be calculated, but the precise point at which they occur cannot be predicted. For example, at what point within a fifty year cycle is the next event likely to take place.......within the next five years or during the last three!!  Now I'm sure such data has been considered but, at the end of the day, the decision to proceed is a value judgement that could carry a high risk.   I'm beginning to be convinced that  to contemplate  built structures and accompanying visitor facilities associated with an area where the risk level is high is perhaps best avoided!  More temporary and modest provisions might be a better alternative!   With our weather systems becoming ever more dynamic and unpredictable I question whether it's morally sensible to consider expensive built structures in areas with a proven track record of inundation.  Shouldn't the investment be more securely placed?  That the proposed Centre is designed to be above predicted flood levels and can be retrieved is not any assurance the facility will continue to attract visitors or produce sufficient income following an incident that might, for instance, drastically affect access.
I think we have to face the unpalatable inevitability that circumstances  are going to get worse in terms of the breach and access to the peninsula and could deteriorate significantly in the short term placing plans for income generation under serious duress.

So what's the solution?  In my eyes it could be a very simple one.

It seems to me that the YWT position is being driven by the understandable need for it to generate income that will then underpin the site management costs. If that over-riding imperative was removed then the need for a Centre would be erased. So why can't Eon simply set up a management fund , legally approved etc,  aimed at supporting the YWT's need, as site owner, to manage the site according to the formal requirements of it being an NNR and the plethora of issues that now surround its future continuity such as site safety issues.  The site can't simply be abandoned and "special case" and  "exceptional circumstances" spring to mind as well as its status in national terms.  Such may have been considered and rejected , but the idea might need to be resurrected if the proposal is turned down!!

The above scenario would mean the Visitor Centre element is  removed altogether, which would mollify the inflamed opposition of local residents, but it would also remove the "commercial aspects" the Trust was forced to adopt in order to pay for site management.  Doubtless a new car park could be considered and, indeed, a small reception centre located in what is the current "turning circle" near the entrance gate. Beyond that no further capital works would be required as the catering function could be located at the Blue Bell where the previously envisaged displays about Spurn and climate change etc could be placed. The basic premise upon which all this rests is that it can be envisaged some event will occur which would call the efficacy of the proposed Centre and its envisaged facilities into question.  It appears that the profile of the breach channel has already begun to alter with all that implies for safe access.

So, final hour , final ideas, but with the over-riding need for the requirements of Spurn itself to be best considered following the clamour of the opposing views of each side being set aside.  It would be a tragedy, in what might best be described as the final death throe years of the peninsula as we've known it , if no common solutions could be agreed upon that saw Spurn's natural assets managed in the most optimum way possible.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Just like old times! 20th November,2015

Friday saw me back on Islay after being away in Ethiopia for quite a while. Travelling from the south of the country up to Addis, the vast majority on unmade roads,  followed by two more nights of travel, resulted in a strange state of detachment where sleep didn't seem relevant any longer. More impactive though was the drastic drop in temperatures which demanded a few extra layers of clothing being brought into play!!

Arriving back I'd no time to look at E-mails or correspondence as long time friend and past work colleague David Spivack and his wife Amanda were on holiday on Islay and we'd pledged to meet. In many senses I only just made it at the very end of their week's vacation. They'd had a pretty miserable week with storms throughout , but it hadn't dampened their enthusiasm. Our immediate conversation surrounded David's recent appointment as UK Director for Falklands Conservation and his recent visit to the islands.  I'll be putting out a Blog at some point highlighting their work and no doubt including an utterly enviable photographic shot of  penguins or albatrosses!!!

We elected to go out birding in the afternoon and set off on a quest to pin down a few species that had eluded them due to the weather. We failed, as shortly after setting off I noticed the external temperature had dropped to 2C and then we were enveloped in snow. Could you believe it!!!  We eventually made our way to Gruinart and the relative haven of the hides on the reserve. Whooper Swans on the move and absolutely stunning views of a passing Hen Harrier made up for things, but all too soon darkness began to fall. Back for more coffee, conversation, gossip, updates and the like.  Reminiscing about RSPB days, talking of Wildlife Trust initiatives ( Amanda works for one of the Trusts ),  past visits to Islay and so it went on . All good things come to an end but it's always good to have something to carry over to the next time of meeting. A whirlwind day, but rewarding.      

Update !!

After a significant lapse in Blog entries, covering quite a period,  I thought it sensible to bring matters up to date by outlining what has been happening and, more importantly, what is also going to happen over the ensuing months.

In recent times I've been out in Ethiopia........ a tremendous country , a tremendous trip and something upon which I'll provide  a " block series" of Blogs in the near future. Returning back to low temperatures ( 3C ) after being in up to 35C was a bit of a climatic culture shock , but thank heavens for cuppa soups!  In parallel, the open wars between Montezuma and Immodium, which bedevilled my final days away,  now seem to have reached some sort of peace ! Normality can now resume.

I have resigned my positions as both BTO Regional Representative, which also included WeBS, and as Moth Recorder for Butterfly Conservation. Both these positions have been taken on by David Wood , Site Manager, RSPB Oa Reserve , Islay  ( ).  This was discussed whilst we were both on holiday following the BirdFair and met quite coincidentally at the Three Swallows pub in Cley!  The timing of 1st November was chosen to link with the new BTO NEWS survey so that David could be involved from the onset.  David has already embraced the change with enthusiasm and I suspect BTO activities on Islay will move forward accordingly.  In recent times two "new" birders have moved to live on Islay  which will help things enormously. Best of luck to all.

And what will I be doing with my time?  Well, I intend moving from Islay in the Spring after 16 years in residence.  New opportunities, easier access to family and more convenient links to transport facilities are all part of the mix besides more immediate birding and foreign travel.. Something to look forward to. What was it Mussolini said (?), "Better to live a year like a lion than a lifetime as a lamb" or something to that effect.

On a rather sadder note, I've learned of the recent untimely death of Islay's optician, Dunstan. He was a consummate professional, a first rate communicator and a real friend to all clients. I remember his support in advance of my having an operation on one eye which, in the end, I looked forward to rather than dreaded. A sad loss indeed and sincere condolences to his family, he'll be sorely missed on Islay.

So there we are, a sitrep as at the end of November and an opportunity now to get the site in order and a series of entries flowing forth!!!