Just go back and read the comments…

john_lawton…on this Guest Blog by Prof Sir John Lawton about the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s plans for a visitor centre at Spurn Point.

What a lot of comments – and most of them are against the idea.

But most of the Likes/Dislikes are ‘Likes’ for the blog.

I wonder how many of the ‘Likes’ are from YWT staff? But there don’t seem many supporters of the plans who want to put their heads above the parapet. Whereas, there have been many comments from locals who dislike the plans.

Interesting, and it demonstrates the fact that people are highly motivated to get involved with local issues – or at least things they perceive as local threats. We could call this as Nimbyism, Not-in-my-Backyardism, but that would just be sticking a label on it. Local activism is a potent force.

I’m very happy to host this debate here.

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30 Replies to “Just go back and read the comments…”

  1. Who else remembers the kerfuffle (one of my favourite "unofficial"words) about the Parrinder Hide at Titchwell! It took over the letters page of the birding magazines for about two months! If the RSPB had endorsed a cull of, say, Pine Martens to help Capercaillie I honestly doubt if so much fuss would have ensued.

    1. Ian - thank you. I remember it. I don't like the Parrinder Hide myself. It's very ugly from the outside and not so great to use from the inside - that doesn't leave much to like.

      1. I have known and loved Titchwell for a very long time, long enough to remember the local consternation about the RSPB by moving in.
        Parrinder Hide Things To Like1: a strong statement building that says 'bird watching is great and this is a bloomin marvellous place for it, worth investing in and celebrating, just like music or art'.
        PHTTL 2: the ( slight) elevation gives great views along the North Norfolk coast, putting Titchwell into a wider context and introducing a bigger picture aesthetically and environmentally
        PHTTL 3: the ' broken' appearance of the building is powerful and resonant in the context of the coastal retreat scheme, the changing coastline of the Wash and climate change generally. (This design may be serendipitous, I fancy the wartime defenc h something to o with it, but the effect is none the worse for that.)
        PHTTL 4: it recognises that cold, dark sheds with men who snarl at you, if you utter a breezy 'good morning' iare not the heart and soul of birdwatching
        PHTTL 5: related to PHTTL 4, I have had some of my loveliest in-hide conversations there, mainly with novice birdwatchers. This includes being able to tell someone they were looking at a brent goose which made their day and enabled me to realise that , yes, they really are very small. I had stopped noticing that.
        PHTTL 6: relation PHTTL 5, some very good RSPB volunteers
        PHTTL. 7: the recognition that nature reserves are places that people manipulate to help wildlife (not bits of wilderness that are left to nature) and maybe help other people to enjoy it
        PHTTL 8: groovy window mechanism
        PHTTL 9: nice blackbord where I enjoyed drawing a snipe
        PHTTL 10: noticing that a saline lagoon is totally different from a freshwater one

        Not perfect, maybe, but there are things to like.

    2. Can I ask what this has to do with building a large visitor centre and car park in an unspoilt location?

  2. I was a "liker", meaning that I was glad to see the issue aired, and I thought it was a well-written contribution to the debate. In other words, I "liked" the blog. That's not the same as "liking" the proposal for the new building. Though it doesn't mean I dislike the proposal either, of course.

  3. I liked the fact that the subject was aired. I was not a great fan of the content, quite simply we are not nimbys we just think that where the YWT propose to put the VC as they call it is absolutely the wrong place.
    But then the trust have never put a great deal into Spurn but have for years treated it as a cash cow and now the cow is dead as the road they charged you to go down no longer exists.
    Spurn is a wonderful place that regular birders and locals want to keep that way, the trust would do well to listen to us. ( something the have a history of being not very good at)

    1. What's wrong with nimbys?

      If we all looked after the wildlife in our 'backyards' then surely the State of Nature wouldn't need the likes of YWT white elephants imposed on an ever changing landscape that is the nature of Spurn?

      When communities are ignored, campaigns are inevitable?

      1. What's wrong with nimbys?

        I agree that it is absolutely right and proper that people should be entitled to resist unwelcome developments 'in their back yard' and where we are talking about protecting a nature reserve they are also doing so on behalf of everyone not just the near neighbours.

        In a wider context where I suppose there is a problem is that we all eat, defaecate, create waste, use electricity and so on, but none of us is happy to have sewage works, waste disposal sites, power stations, factories and all the other infrastructure that allows this on our doorstep. It is not an acceptable form of nimbyism that leads to our wastes being shipped off to poor countries to be treated in ways that are technically inferior to what we should be capable of doing ourselves. It is, of course, often very difficult to balance the needs, aspirations and rights of local communities against those of the wider society.

        I would hasten to add that I don't know Spurn myself and I am not in any way seeking to suggest that in the present case local interests should be subordinate to any presumed wider interest.

        1. The people of Kilnsea and Easington already have two large gas terminal sites, a land wind farm and now an off shore windfarm within their area. But the place where the YWT want to put the Visiter Centre is a lovely unspoilt area and we truly don't have many of them left, we would be negligent if we did not question the location, this is important not just for local people but for all visitors and future generations, they do have other choices despite what the say.

  4. I was pleased to see John's blog, although I felt the tone was unhelpful in places. Your biographical sketch at the start of the blog sets out John's credentials as an internationally-respected conservation scientist, which is nice, but I'd rather know more about how well John knows Spurn. One of the problems with the site chosen is that it's a very well known and much loved migrant trap with a long history of good birds, the sort of spot birders are going to fight to protect. Mess with a birders' local patch at your peril! Same for local residents - it's their patch, they love it, and they'll fight tooth and nail to defend it.
    I'll take an unpopular stance and say that the migrants that utilise the triangle field will find somewhere else - this isn't a nature conservation issue (correct me if I'm wrong). On balance I support the Trust. I think this is a logical location and the centre would be successful. But I can't see it going ahead unfortunately.

    1. This is a wider issue than just local opinion, which is in itself a very important consideration. There are questions about why the YWT seems to have been prioritised for community funding over the local communities, why the YWT has continued to show information on its website that the Trust's CEO admitted was inaccurate 4 months ago and the potential financial liability that the VC will have on the Trust for (according to the YWT website) the 60 years the VC plan estimates it will operate for. I have been a member of the YWT for 35 years but the CEO has lost my respect and trust for not making sure that information provided to Trust members and the wider public is kept up to date and accurate. By opting to continue using information that the CEO changed verbally (reducing expectation) during a period of debate is at least careless and at worse intentionally misleading. When forecasts are wrong and illustrations of plans appearing to alter scale and omit the highest elements of a structure then I think it is prudent to be cautious, because if these things are known to be going on by many of those interested in this proposal, what is there going on that has yet to be uncovered? As someone who witnessed the disasterous public consultation in July, as a long standing member of the YWT, I am really disappointed that they are pushing on with a project whose claims the CEO could not back up in public. To me it appears that at least one person is going to push this forward regardless of any opposition and without feeling the need to justify any decisions to the Trust's membership. All very authoritarian to me.

  5. I have never been to Spurn but over more than two decades I have been involved in advising on numerous visitor centre plans, a process that often involves deciding there are better ways to spend the money. Visitor centres are tricksie things and people get very excited when thinking about them.

    In discussing plans of this sort we often find we are dealing with relationships and trust rather than plans and proposals. So, although I have never been to Spurn, some of this territory feels familiar.

    I have significant doubts about this blog as a forum for debating this. This process is clearly not in a good place. In my view the only hope for moving it forward is in carefully structured discussions in a neutral and confidential space where people can talk and listen openly and flexibly. That is not what happens in social media which is more like people shouting in a bar ( even though, Mark, I do think you are good moderating bartender, probably intoning ' that's enough of that talk in my bar, young fella' at intervals). This might be a place where birders and local people get together to say what matters to them to people who they think will agree, but that's entirely different.

  6. What idiot thinks killing Pine Marten may help Capers! Foxes and Golden Eagles kill Pine Martens and the foxes are killed by the RSPB so more Pine Martens. Stop idiots going to the caper nests will prevent scent trails helping predators finding them. Remember the Scandinavians have told the RSPB the habitat kills the chicks of the caper! The reason that people do not response to events is often because they are given mis-information about the events such was the case of Spurn. One of the things you have to remember grant aid and lottery funding applied for is often not for doing up an existing building so why no cafe conversion!

    1. These idiots you speak of going to Cappa nest are prominent birders advertising annual Scottish trips and of course birding photographers.

  7. I think there was a very good comment above about the migrant birds would potentially use other areas (if disturbance was really that bad - which I think unlikely from a building that looks to be well shielded)

    The other important consideration here is this is the exact reason why the country has planning committees. I may not like my neighbour but unless his extension / build is having an impact on me that the planning committee deems to be in contradiction to planning policy then the proposal goes through (if not it potentially gets legally challenged)

    I guess what I am saying is it is not always possible to balance one persons / organisations needs with others wants and wishes but that doesn't mean they shouldn't do the thing in question(if they believe it to be the right thing to do) We see this all the time in the Politics.

    1. I assume you have not visited the site Dakota Dave from your comments about the building being well shielded or have been taken in by the YWT misrepresentation of the facts.The building is 6.8m high in reality but only drawn at about 3.5m high in YWT articles(half the actual height) they also fail to miss the 60ft high mast off all recent press releases and website information. The building and mast will not be well shielded and be an eye sore from both sides of the humber.

      It maybe worth you reviewing the say no to YWT page which will give you a more honest answer to what is being proposed here.

  8. Reading some of the comments here suggests that people have only read the original article without looking at the comments or digging deeper into the issue. A reason I suspected contributed to so many 'likes' on the original post.

  9. I presume all who are commenting here have read John Lawton's original blog. A couple of days ago a local resident posted a link to this blog on the website of the ywt, which sir john is of course the chairman. This post was removed within five minutes and the poster blocked from the site. I know people, myself included who have been barred from the ywt site for using offensive words such as schizophrenic and deluded. To ban someone for publisisng the words of their chairman strikes me as rather strange. Though there are many who think that the blog was not entirely the good profs own work. Something I'm sure he would refute.

  10. If one spent some time at Spurn, just listening to the blinkered comments, misinformation and often abuse directed towards YWT. You soon realise that this whole Visitor Centre issue, was and still is being orchestrated by a few a few local birders, the most vocal who have only recently moved to Kilnsea.
    They say they want to keep Spurn wild and free and accuse YWT of wanting a 'cash cow' visitor centre. Yet! These same objectors support buying up land around Kilnsea, to charge all future visitors to access ' their' land to view any birds present. Also all birds trapped elsewhere are transported too and controversially released here so visitors can then 'PAY TO VIEW'. #Cashcow?

    If you visit the proposed site (A grass field of no botanical value) that is in truth almost hidden from view & shielded by the canal bank and surrounding bushes along the roadside. You can only conclude a visitor centre her is not the real issue. So what is?
    You will no doubt also how can a VC here be an eye sore!
    Which is more than can be said for the caravan site along the access road between the pub and YWT cafe.
    # Golookandlisten

    1. I do not live in Kilnsea or Easington, I am also capable of making up my own mind. I made the effort to attend the July 15 public consultation in Easington, because the future of Spurn matters to me. As a member of the YWT for far longer than I have been visiting Spurn, I wanted to know what they were proposing and I wanted the Trust to back up its promotional literature. Disappointingly the Trust could not back up its claims and dramatically revised some of figures at the meeting. If you were at the meeting then you are probably wondering why the Trust still using the information that it would not standby at the meeting on its website on 30 November 2015 (http://www.ywt.org.uk/spurn-development-project ).

      You have not mentioned whether or not you are a member of the YWT, but if you are can you tell me what accurate information have you received that persuades you that the proposed location is the best and that the £900,000 investment is better than (a) giving the money to the local community that put up with the pile driving for months during the construction of the turbine field or (b) better value for money than buying one of the two existing buildings (the house next to the Bluebell Café and Southfield Farm). Perhaps the latter option could provide a visitor centre and allow for a generous grant back to the local communities that suffered the inconvenience? Personally I am interested in how the YWT is going to cover the investment in shop and café stock, wages for 19 new staff positions and the maintenance of any new centre, because as a member of the YWT I want to see it succeed in looking after all of its 90+ reserves.

      With regards to abuse, I have not heard anyone abuse the local YWT staff and my experience has always a positive one. My experiences of staff and birder interaction at Spurn have always been positive (if you witnessed some leg pulling, well it is grown up rules at Spurn (like so many other patches) and if you are a regular and not getting leg pulled you should be worried). Some staff are local residents and others are adopted into the scene quickly and socialize with regulars in the Crown and Anchor. With regards to individuals speaking their minds about organisations, I think we would all be living in bubbles if we thought people do not criticize something they are frustrated with, whether that is a store that they buy products from or a Trust that they pay a membership to. Being a member surely gives one a voice? Being a member of the local community that have had their own planning applications rejected surely have the right to comment when others propose far grander plans?

      With regards to comment suggesting a small minority are at the centre of this is the opinion you have formed, but if you had sat with me in the July meeting I think you might have a different view. The Community Centre was so full that many attendees had to stand.

      The cash cow comment regarding Spurn is because the YWT has charged non-members for accessing the site for years. The YWT CEO was asked to provide the public meeting with examples of investment at the site over the past 40 years and I did not hear him quote any. This is the criticism, that the YWT charged for a road that was maintained for them by the ABP (a disclosure at the public meeting) and yet did not reinvest those charges in the reserve where the funds were generated. You say ‘the objectors’
      support buying up land around Kilnsea, to charge all future visitors to access ' their' land to view any birds present. This comment points the finger at the Spurn Bird Observatory/Friends of Spurn (Birders), it completely ignores the communities of Easington and Kilnsea. The Spurn Bird Observatory/Friends of Spurn are charities and they are extremely active in promoting birdwatching, as well as wider natural history, but they have limited membership and resources compared to the YWT. I applaud the Spurn Bird Observatory/Friends of Spurn for buying any available land in the area. If we turn back the clock a few decades it was active local naturalists that identified areas valuable to fauna and flora, which were then secured through public and charitable means to create nature reserves. That process is still evolving and is essential if we want to safeguard areas that are important or that we use to study these aspects of nature. To access the well established reserves we normally have to have a membership or we buy a day permit. There is no difference between that and what you criticize. The charities have invested in land to preserve it for nature and you could join the Friends of Spurn and receive its excellent benefits (one of the best bird reports in the country, access to the radio service and access to those sites owned by the charities). With regards to the three sites that the charities own, 2 sites are where ringing are conducted (Yew Villa and Church Field) and therefore controlling access is important. The third site, Corner Field, is very small and can be overlooked from the main road.

      You have also referred birds being trapped at locations and then ‘controversially released’ at the pay for view sites. I have only been going to Spurn since 1993 but I personally have never witnessed this or heard of it before your comment. The Ringers at Spurn have always been very professional and conscious of any bird’s welfare, so time is always of the essence. With birds being shown close to where they were trapped (Yew Villa, Church Field or The Warren). Contrary to your comment, I have been at Spurn when a significant bird (nationally or locally) that has been trapped at Yew Villa has been announced and ten released in the Crown and Anchor Car Park and I am are that there many birders out there that will back me up on this.

      Having visited Spurn and clearly formed an opinion of the dynamics at the site you will hopefully have noticed that the relationship between the YWT and Spurn Bird Observatory/Friends of Spurn is a symbiotic one. The YWT owns much of the land but most of the science, volunteer work and hosting is carried out by the Spurn Bird Observatory/Friends of Spurn and local community. As a member of the YWT I acknowledge that the Trust benefits disproportionately from its relationship with the Spurn Bird Observatory/Friends of Spurn and therefore Sir in my opinion your comments directed at Spurn’s committed naturalists is unfair.

      With regards to the proposed site of the visitor centre, you have not mentioned your objections for the two houses that have been offered for sale, including the excellent Southfield Farm? However concentrating on your comments, whether the field at the location is botanically important or not is a complete red herring. It is surrounded by bushes and water that attract wildlife, at the point where the topography of the River Humber and North Sea Coast funnel migrating birds. With regards to shielding, the height of the Canal Bank is perhaps a metre higher than the road and bushes (if they survive the proposed development are about 3-4 metres high, the visitor centre is 6.5 metres high with a much higher mast! The visitor centre will dominate that area. With regards to your comment regarding the caravan site between the Crown and Anchor public house and the Bluebell café, as a naturalist I would prefer the location to have been kept wild, especially as it overlooks Well Field pool. I am sure you would therefore share my concern as to why the YWT has not used its funds to secure the site in the past or why it did not secure the far larger North Field opposite the site you refer to which now has a planning application to replace Sandy Beaches Caravan Site. I have concluded that the YWT was not concerned about Spurn at that point. Perhaps you might want to ask the YWT if they are objecting to the proposed new caravan site?

      Finally, just so that you understand why it is not just a few people that are at the centre of this, how would you react if the CEO of an organization said he would build a visitor centre in your village that would give it a reason to exist and, who according to BBC 1 Look North, on the evening of the public meeting said that the YWT would consider pulling out Spurn if it could not build the Visitor Centre. Who is it that cares about Spurn, the birds and community or the Trust? #Golooklistenandenjoy

    2. Very interesting observations ' Joe'. You've obviously spent time at Spurn listening to these few vocal birders who have recently moved to Kilnsea. Would you like to expand on the misinformation which has been put about by these people? I'm very disappointed if this is in fact the best the ywt can do in reply to the criticism they had over it's chairman's original blog. Please accept my apologies if you do not actually work for the ywt and you really are called Joe.

  11. Hi Joe
    Do you know how high a 60 ft mast is and a 21ft high building ? the surrounding shrubbery is at best 14ft high go and have a visit and look

  12. First- there is no similarity between the Parrinder hide at Titchwell and the proposed visitor centre. One is a facility which enables you to appreciate the environment, the other is a glorified tea room and souvenir shop. Look at the Cley visitor centre and the 'tower of babel' at Salthome and you will see how money that should be spent on conservation is spent on marketing. I take this to be the undue influence of highly paid chief executives and marketing managers. Second- there just isn't the room to allow such a building- a modest, discrete facility is what is required. It will be very embarrassing when the locals protest at the bloated YWT development plans. It will be most embarrassing for them. Finally- whatever is built, the fact remains that there will be no easy access to the point.

  13. Joe .. You are a very confused person and desperately in need of clarification. As stated in my previous submission SBOT do not charge non FOS visitors access to their land. We only request a donation in a most friendly manner when an unusual species of bird is caught. There is no transporting of birds caught from one area to another as you suggest as we actually own all of the locations where nets and traps are erected. Our main ringing station is located in Church Field. Perhaps you would like to call me Joe so that I can explain to you in more detail what actually takes place and I would also like to offer you a personal guided walk through our land so that that you will be in no doubt as to the very stringent and disciplined process that we adhere to. I look forward to you calling me on 07970 235255 to arrange our meeting. Personal and detailed intervention is essential at a very high level when potential conflict exists and it is that which I am offering to you Joe.

  14. Joe,
    I don’t know who you are, but your comments make it clear that you are very ignorant indeed about Spurn. I live in Kilnsea and have done so since 2001, but began visiting the area almost every weekend, beginning in 1985. Many of the people who have responded to Sir John Lawton’s blog can claim even longer familiarity with the place than I can myself. I think that we opponents of this ill-judged visitor centre have conducted ourselves with great restraint, and if you have read actual abuse perhaps you can share that here? For its part the YWT has made no efforts whatsoever to become part of the area. I would point out that when Easington Parish Council wrote to Rob Stoneman a few years ago asking if Easington Parish residents could go onto Spurn free (it is after all part of our parish) they received a very firm no indeed. And yes, amazingly, every time a new section of road had to be constructed it was paid for by ABP and the RNLI, with the cash for using it going to the YWT. Despite many pleas the Trust never bothered to put toilets on the Point! Moreover in the earlier years when Spurn was the only reserve actually making money for the YWT the accounts show that far more money was going out of Spurn and into the YWT coffers than was ever spent on the nature reserve. And the creation of paths and hides (and indeed the creation of Canal Scrape, the car park and the planting around it), were all done under the Spurn Heritage Coast Project, of which the YWT was almost a sleeping partner.
    The proposed site, which you call of no botanical value, was flooded in the December 2013 surge. If the Trust had any consideration for its assets it would be caring for that field so as to recover its botanical value for the numerous moths, butterflies, bees and other insects which have taken advantage of its flora over the years. Instead the Trust has over-grazed it. And in any case surely you know that one needs to see a landscape as a whole? This little field sits within an area of scrub (planted by the Spurn Heritage Trust), is part of a wildlife corridor, adjacent to SPA, Ramsar Site, SSSI, and at the very tip of the Kilnsea peninsula (I think we can call it that now that Spurn is breached and inaccessible except on foot). As you have been informed, any building on this site will be all too visible from every angle. And the totally misleading mock-ups by the YWT showing the bushes as about twice their real height help to confuse people such as yourself who do not know the area well.
    No, Joe, the real issue here is indeed the site. Have you bothered to read the comments on Sir John’s blog? I presume not. I suggest that you do so. Also I hope you will take up the offer of the Chairman of Spurn Bird Observatory to meet you and discuss the matter. I too would be happy to meet you as I am sure would others. And I have a web site called wilgilsland.co.uk which has a page devoted to this topic.

  15. Dear All
    Regarding Joe, it is clear that Joe is using a pseudonym and more importantly "trolling" the blog. I would suggest that the chair of Sbot does not hold his breath for the phone to ring, as it will not happen.
    To most living locally, I think it is clear who Joe is, as Joe has demonstrated vast local knowledge, that most visitors simply do not have. Footnote to "Joe" we have had several conversations regarding the Visitor Centre and agreed to disagree, but I have stressed like many, I am in favour of a visitor centre at Spurn, but not in the Triangle Field.
    To summarise "Joe" rather than hide behind a pseudonym you could have added real value and credibility to the debate by using your real name, unfortunately you have now missed an important opportunity.

    Warm Regards
    Dave Tucker

  16. What is interesting about all of these comments, including those in the JL blog, is the incoherent argument. I'm not sure it is clear what #keepspurnwild actually means? Keep Spurn Wild we just don't like the location. Keep Spurn Wild we are unhappy Eon have chosen to give money to YWT. Keep Spurn Wild we are unhappy the road has gone we want YWT to build a new one. Keep Spurn wild we don't like YWT. Keep Spurn Wild we think YWT should buy one of those two properties in Spurn for the new VC as the current owners want to sell up. As much as I might understand all the history I think YWT have been fairly clear. If I were a local business I would be grateful for the potential free passing trade I might get, whether I was a pub, shop, campsite, B&B.

    I think I will be able to still walk to Spurn and it still feel pretty wild despite a new VC. I doubt my landscape photography will be ruined by hoards of visitors. It's quite a big site.

    1. I am sorry you have been unable to grasp the many important salient comments the people who are opposing the site location of the Visitor Centre are putting forward, have you indeed read all the blogs below Sir Johns blog? It is not just a simple petty argument as you seem to suggest.
      To try to rectify this misunderstanding can I suggest that;

      1) you could ask someone to read through the blogs with you and discuss,

      2) you could spend time at spurn talking to local people, visitors, and the owners of the only post office shop,

      3)you may also like to use the phone number provided by the chair of SBOT,

      I hope this may help you gain some much needed clarity, and indeed when in full posetion of all the TRUE facts you still feel the same, then at least you will have come to an informed opinion.


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