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.
26 Replies to “Guest blog – Spurn: wilderness, fascination, and a worrying situation by Georgia Locock”
Why is the YWT so determined to build here? Isn’t that the key question? If you answer that question you stand a chance of changing their minds. (They may not want to admit the reason(s) of course.)
Is it just bloody-mindedness, once they’ve decided? Traditionally, Yorkshire folk aren’t famous for being prepared to change their minds!
Why here? – maybe to satisfy E.ON, the cash cow for this project, that the VC has complete view of its ranks of turbines?
I don’t know much about this particular case but there does seem to be an increasing trend towards de-wilding our nature reserves with hides, boardwalks, cafes and other infrastructure. Tower hides especially can be a real blot on the landscape in areas that previously had a wild feel to them. They help people see more wildlife, more easily, but they take up habitat (admittedly not much) and they might be the only artificial structure visible from parts of some reserves. For me that detracts from the experience, the sense of getting away from the all pervasive influence of people. We may have no choice but to manage wildlife habitats in order to maintain them but adding man-made buildings seems a step too far.
Great article. Duly recorded my objection.
Brilliant post Georgia, perfectly articulates the argument against this proposal and the YWT’s negligence of their responsibility to protect Spurn
Well done Georgina. Great blog. Probably the best critique written so far on this whole sorry affair. I too have discovered the wonders of Spurn in the last few years. I am also a YWT member. I am disgusted by their behaviour and attitude during this process. They have been intransigent and frankly Stalinist in their approach. Your point about the wider Spurn area hits the nail on the head. Visitors should arrive at a new sensitively sited and directed as much to Sammy’s or Beacon Ponds as much as they are to the point and the Lighthouse. The YWT arguements are utter rubbish. Although I don’t think that Blue Bell is a realistic option for redevelopment. Well Field could be the way forward. People could be “bussed” down to the Lighthouse from there on twice daily safaris. If YWT don’t change their tack I for one will be reigning my membership. Keen Spurn Wild!
Georgia. Sorry for typos! Written on phone in a hurry. Could t even get you name right. D’oh!
Keep up the good work. Best Wishes.
Spot on guest blog. I have been down to stay at Spurn twice this year and this sums up the feelings of the vast majority of people.
I wonder how many ‘dislikes’ will be logged regarding your piece and all the supporting comments & by whom? (See John Lawton guest blog if you don’t know what I mean)
Excellent critique Georgina, gives me hope for the future
See http://birdingodyssey.blogspot.co.uk/ Well both Johns. John Laws offering sums it up wonderfully and local community via http://www.wilgilsland.co.uk/page41.html
You may find that the Chief Executive of YWT has this as a personal target, and is supported by the Finance Officer. Each WT Chief Executive runs ‘their’ WT differently, and some are ‘forceful’ characters, who don’t take kindly to any opposing questions/opinions from their staff or members.
Write to the Trustees, asap, each one of them individually.
What an honest and well reasoned argument. As an ex teacher I would award you your A level now!!!!!!
Great blog,100% agree with you. You asked why YWT were so set.to build on the triangle. One main reason that springs to mind is the sponsors. e-ON. The Wind turbines must be visible from the Visitor Centre. Allegedly,It is a requirement from the sponsors,E-ON.
Money. That is all this is about.
Prior to the road to the point being breached, which was some time before the tidal surge in 2013, YWT had very little presence. They collected the money as people went to the point. Nothing was invested, no habitat management took place, YWT had a nice little cash cow.
Pushing this application in the way they have, YWT must have wasted so much money that could have been put to better use, it’s all rather sad.
We had a similar situation across the estuary at Donna Nook a few years back. The Environment Agency acquired 400 acres of land for a managed realignment of the sea defences adjacent to the Donna Nook Lincs Wildlife Trust reserve. It has one of the biggest most accessible grey seal breeding colonies on the east coast. The EA thought a sweetner would be to build a visitor centre and commenced a consultation with the local community of North Somercotes in conjunction with LWT. The locals were totally opposed to the whole idea fearing it would generate even more visitor pressure than they were already suffering. The realignment has been done but the visitor centre was dropped. LWT have managed the situation well and not tried to make money out of it.
It seems YWT have been seduced by the brass on offer. They ought to rethink and have a genuine consultation with the locals, listen and offer them something the locals would find valuable. Like less traffic going past their houses which the alternative location Georgina suggests would give them. Do they realise how preposterous the idea of building on the triangle looks from outside Yorkshire.
What an excellent blog Georgia. So glad you feel welcomed by the locals. Well said.
Lovely blog Georgia and one has to agree we need no YWT centre. historically of course the YWT made huge amounts of money from Spurn but put little back in and with the breach their golden goose has died leaving a big hole in their finances. But they should abide by what the majority of locals, the bird observatory visitors and the birders want which is no centre where they propose.
Goodness me…some people had a grumpy morning judging by the number of early ‘dislikes’. Seems very odd to me
A great blog which says it all. I liked the comment above about Donna Nook. I think there are many parallels. Anyone who might want to read more could look at my web site http://www.wilgilsland.co.uk. The page on What’s New and the page called Keep Spurn Wild.
Well-written blog post. The resubmission is vexing to say the least. It’s another insult to Spurn wildlife devotees. Incredibly arrogant to resubmit with no significant change. Why they can’t see that an alternative site is the best way forward is beyond me.
Well thought out and hits the nail bang on the head. I’ll be objecting once again but I do wonder why the YWT would submit the same application again? What’s changed that makes them think it will get through this time? Should be interesting reading the docs. If they’re the same it really should be a simple decision for the council.
Anyway, great blog post Georgia.
An extremely well written and heart felt blog that echoes the feelings of many. Its a shame that the CEO of YWT and its Trustees are not listening
A fantastic written demonstration of the sheer quality of young birders (especially of the fairer sex) around at the moment. This is only to be welcomed, regardless of the ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’ of YWT’s case. Keep up the good work and involvement.
Very interesting blog and well written, enabling people who do not know the area to understand why people are against the Visitors Center so thank you. I lived in the Blue Bell for 10 years and so i know just how big it is inside, to me there is room for small class rooms they require with it having 4 bedrooms which the front two are very large. There was 2 living rooms but i do not know how they have changed the ground floor. They could even have a hut like we had them as class rooms years ago at Easington School which worked very well.
I was living at the Blue Bell in the 1978 floods and it was terrible, freak storms that nobody expected which deeply flooded all that area especially the Triangle. they couldn’t get a vehicle down to the Spurn residents and so tried a horse and cart but even that couldn’t get down Kilnsea Road it was so bad. Then in 2013 it came again causing Spurn to be cut off from Kilnsea all together.
I as a resident am fixed on stipulating that the VC if allowed will be built in Kilnsea and yet the YWT seem to be trying to brainwash the public by announcing it is at Spurn. Yes it overlooks Spurn but nothing more and it is ignorant of the YWT to exclude the title of where this center will actually be. This to me is another total disregard to the local community, they will not name Kilnsea and the media do exactly the same.
They constantly boast about people coming to the Blue Bell and do well, so why cant they use this every time.
The other matter is that they have always been against dogs and yet they are inviting people with dogs to come with their dogs to the center if built. This wont last long though as i feel it is just a publicity stunt to get people here and to vote for the center and will soon put a stop to it all if they get the build.
Parking has always been free in Kilnsea and yet they will be charging, it is all about the money making and no thought into the wildlife and our environment here.People here welcome visitors, i don’t even mind the new center if they built it in the right place. Thank you for your fantastic blog, you really said everything that needed to be said.
I have just watched a BBC News programme on Look North in which it was said by a representative of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust that the Springwatch generation expects a state of the art Visitor Centre where they can get a latte. As a keen conservationist I despair that this attitude can be expressed by a body which should be preserving a fragile nature reserve like Spurn. Their Chief Executive threatened that if he did not get this Visitor Centre then the YWT would pull out of Spurn altogether. Personally I cannot wait. (Georgia herself of course has appeared on Springwatch).
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