Georgia is a young naturalist and blogger. She has just started her second year of A levels and plans to study Zoology at university next year. Amongst her fascination of all wildlife, she particularly enjoys using trail cameras to capture footage of nocturnal wildlife, birding, campaigning and sharing her fascination of the natural world in the hope of inspiring others to venture outside too. One way she attempts to do this is through her blog.
Upon Georgia’s first visit to Spurn last year, it was the spectacle of swifts migrating that initially captivated her. As a result, she has tried to visit as many times as possible since, with each visit further inspiring her.
Back in July the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s planning application for a visitor centre at Spurn National Nature Reserve was rejected by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council. For the minority who supported the application this was described as ‘incredibly disappointing’, but for those who opposed it the decision came as a temporary relief. Over my summer break from sixth form this year I spent a significant amount of time at Spurn. Upon my first visit last year I was captivated, as are most people, by its wilderness, excitement and fascination. However as a campaigner for environmental issues, I was drawn into learning more about an issue that is being debated here.
This guest blog post should be celebrating Spurn. It’s an East Coast hotspot that is thriving with life and excitement all year round. Not just the abundance of migrating birds and those rarities which it is very well known for, but the variety of habitats; from sand dunes and salt marshes to a canal scrape and meadows which make it ecologically rich and blissful for naturalists of any level. It’s a unique place in more ways than one. Unfortunately I’m not going to continue with this enthusiastic tone, as the re-submission of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s planning application looms over it once again.
Straight away it pains me that I’m openly criticising a wildlife conservation charity’s decision. With the natural environment in a declining state across the globe, it’s important to be endorsing and supporting such organisations at every opportunity as they have part of the voice that has an impact towards change. However, on that point, it also scares me that I can be in such disagreement with a Wildlife Trust’s attitude and plans at one of the UK’s, if not one of Europe’s, most important nature reserves. Nature lovers and naturalists alike support and give their trust to wildlife NGOs for their work preserving and improving the places that mean the most to us, but when they get that wrong it’s just as important to let them know, because surely it’s obvious that what matters above all is the natural world.
The 2013 North Sea Tidal Surge damaged a lot of the infrastructure at Spurn, including the road to the Point which was made inaccessible for public vehicles. Before the Tidal Surge the YWT (Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) generated a substantial income from charging vehicles to drive down. The YWT’s plans to develop an area of Spurn were first unveiled in early 2014. They announced they were going to submit a planning application for a new visitor centre. One that would use £900,000 of the £2 million given to the community by E. ON after the building of their offshore Humber Gateway windfarm. Both E. ON and the YWT claimed that the construction would benefit the local community. However, as the community were the last to be told and had no say on the matter, they were somewhat infuriated. Unfortunately, the relationship between locals and the YWT hasn’t improved since.
The voice of local residents has fallen on to deaf ears and the YWT has failed to take their concerns into consideration. In addition, the YWT’s insults against those local to Spurn is very worrying. For example, just take a look at some of the comments in the guest blog post Sir John Lawton wrote in favour of the development on Mark’s blog last November. The vast knowledge of those who are both local and visitors to Spurn and that has been created from visiting and spending uncountable hours at the site over many, many years is incredible, and their dedication is equally inspiring. The newly published Birds of Spurn book demonstrates how the knowledge and familiarity of a place could not be any more advanced. Their voices need to be listened to and carefully considered before any damaging decisions or developments begin.
When visiting Spurn, I’ve never felt so welcomed anywhere. And this is the case for all visitors, whether amateur or professional birders, or just general naturalists. The Spurn Bird Observatory Trust (a YWT tenant at Spurn who carry out essential conservation and ornithological studies) have engaged with new projects such as ‘School of Birding’ which is an attempt to inspire those of all abilities to enjoy the area. Along with attracting hundreds of visitors from across the country every year for their Migration Festival. It is evident they are very keen on welcoming and encouraging visitors and are therefore not against improved visitor facilities or even a new visitor centre but they are against a visitor centre in the location of the current application.
The YWT have claimed that it is only a minority opposing the location of the visitor centre, and this is only those who live locally. During the first planning application process, only 150 out of the 43-44,000 YWT members wrote in support. There was a much larger number of 351 who wrote expressing their objections. Let’s refer back to Sir John Lawton’s post again. It was a very strong post that attracted over 70 comments. All except two of these comments were in disagreement with what Sir John had written. Passionate comments are equally numerous on the petition against the visitor centre location, along with 800 signatures, and almost 500 ‘likes’ on the ‘No To Spurn’s YWT Visitor Centre’ Facebook page. The volume of people expressing their deep concern demonstrates how passionate they are about Spurn, and only someone with a heart of ‘stone’ would fail to recognise this.
You don’t have to be a local or one of the many regular visitors to realise that something isn’t quite right here. A familiar wildlife NGO attempting to develop a rich area of land. It is an area that is surrounded by excellent scrubs and bushes which provide shelter for migrating birds passing through, is next door to the canal scrape, overlooking the Humber Estuary mudflats which see hundreds of waders feeding on, and sat on top of a meadow. All of these factors make this area extremely sensitive, along with the obvious fragility of it being located at the coast line. Disturbance is inevitable.
After the recent Council refusal, which was on grounds of flood risk and visual impact, the YWT have decided to re-submit their application at the same location on Triangle Field. With the availability of other locations that could provide equal opportunities, and the undeniable fact that at this site the impact on biodiversity outweighs the benefits of human enjoyment, then their decision is disgraceful. And yet the YWT have denied on multiple occasions that any other area of Spurn would be a suitable site. The east end of Well Field has been suggested to them, and it would have much greater support including that of the Spurn Bird Observatory Trust. The YWT have argued that its location here would not be suitable as it is 400 meters from the ‘natural entrance’ to Spurn. I find this very confusing. Spurn is a vast area that does not start from the ‘gate’ or is just a spit of sand that stretches out across the Humber Estuary. The Spurn experience is equally prominent whether you’re looking over Kilnsea Wetlands or the Canal Scrape, up at Beacon Ponds, walking around Sammy’s Point, or following the coastline path past Blue Bell or whether you walk down to the Point. As a Wildlife Trust, the YWT should be embracing all of these areas which collaborate to make Spurn so special.
Despite the Spurn Bird Observatory confirming that the area of Well Field they support for a visitor centre is not used by any SPA species, the YWT have said it would not be a suitable location because it is used by whimbrel at times during the year for feeding and roosting. A recent document supporting their application stated ‘As a nature conservation charity, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is not prepared to build a structure on land that is used by birds or other important wildlife’. Obviously this is great and so they shouldn’t, but why does it not apply when they assert that Triangle Field would be suitable? They say that building on Triangle Field would have ‘none or minimal impact on biodiversity’. This seems impossible to most observers, and those who know the area better than anyone else are fully denying it.
If building on any of these areas would be too detrimental to the wildlife and attraction of the Spurn Heritage Coast, then is it worth the risk? Of course, the YWT do have responsibilities regarding human enjoyment, safety and possible disturbance. For example, new visitors need to be aware of the sensitivity of the area so they aren’t damaging or disturbing habitats or species, but without detracting from their enjoyment and appreciation of the location too. At high tide when the breach disappears and the spit becomes an island, it can be very dangerous and the YWT have a duty towards people’s safety. They believe that improved visitor facilities would ensure they can do this. But why not make full use of the facilities they already have?
The YWT currently own a building called the Blue Bell which is their café, and was originally bought and set up as an information Centre. When it is open, (opening times have often been difficult to ascertain), it does a good job of serving visitors with cups of tea and cake which is sometimes really all they want. Maybe it doesn’t have the appeal of a visitor centre but what’s stopping the YWT from changing this? As a result of the 2013 Tidal Surge, the Blue Bell was closed for eight weeks. If there was a repeat incident, then this could create implications. During the same tidal surge, flood water levels at the site of the proposed new centre reached six feet in depth. They claim that the design of the new building would mean it would be able to reopen just days after water levels recede. What isn’t understood is why they can’t invest in flood-proofing and upgrading the Blue Bell using the large sum of money they plan to spend on the new centre. This would avoid the damage to biodiversity and the loss of valuable habitat in Triangle Field. They have dismissed this idea by claiming that, in its current state, the Blue Bell has a very limited lifespan. And yet the road that runs in front of the Blue Bell is the very same one that leads to where the new visitor centre would be located.
The unclear messages given by the YWT’s attitude towards developments at Spurn are apparent throughout all of their comments on the situation. For any developer, it is surely essential to gather the opinion and views of those interested and involved in the area and take them into consideration. For a conservation body it is surely ethical to put wildlife first. If the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust wants to improve biodiversity and visitor enjoyment at Spurn then a step forward would be by working with and listening to those who visit and those who have developed their knowledge of the landscape over many, many years.
You can view the application and find details about how you can respond through this link. The timescale is very tight with less than 3 weeks to make your opinion heard.