Given all the recent publicity regarding Spurn I have been in discussion with a few other people and gleaned some thoughts on how all of this energy could be channelled in a more positive direction.
Firstly, there is something big at Spurn. It is special and it is unique in Europe, probably the World. People care dearly about the place and they want to be involved. They want to be a part of it. They feel that they have something positive to contribute for the betterment of this magical place.
Some of those people are experts in their field whether it be birds, biology local history whatever. All of that specialist resource is on the doorstep and surely it could be channelled such that those ‘experts’ could contribute in managing and promoting Spurn.
The biggest problem with Spurn at the moment (in my opinion) is the perception that the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust don’t care about the place.
It is easy to understand why people may think that way, for example;
YWT submitted a planning application for a new visitor centre that had a communications mast right in the middle of a migration flyway.
Then they pursued a Visitor Centre in a very sensitive location, where (arguably) other sites were available.
They admitted themselves that they got their engagement and communication wrong in the lead-up to the last planning submission.
YWT struggled with the implementation of measures to comply with Planning Conditions.
They failed with statutory compliance regarding the sewage discharge.
There has been an apparent increase in dog walkers, motor cycles and people entering sensitive areas.
Thousands of metres of barbed wire remain in place despite assurances it would be removed.
Spurn Bird Observatory Trust has been banned from scientific study of birds (despite the fact they have been there for 70 years).
People have been banned for voicing the concerns on how things are being managed at Spurn.
There is no Management Plan in place (despite this being a specific requirement of Natural England) nor is there a timescale as to when it will be ready.
There is no consent in place for the use of the Unimog. This despite a requirement by Natural England to ensure that works or activities that may be detrimental to features within an SSSI should have a Consent Agreement. Only yesterday the Unimog went over the breach at high tide because (apparently) the YWT were hosting a Ghost Walk at the point.
Well Field remains full of builder’s rubble when it should have been developed and enhanced as mitigation for the land used by the New Visitor centre.
Quite frankly there is no wonder people are cheesed off with the YWT. The perception that the YWT don’t care about Spurn is reinforced by the points I have made above.
From a YWT perspective, they have a flagship reserve, a brand new building and they have a team of decent people down there who want to make it work and who care passionately about wildlife conservation.
At some point in time no doubt a line has to be drawn, let's suppose that the YWT have a change of heart.
So what needs to be done?
How about a plan for Spurn that (as a starter for 10) could pull together all the complex issues that are associated with such a magical place?
The first thing that needs to happen is that the YWT need to show some compassion. A complete change of heart that acknowledges how much people genuinely care about Spurn. Let’s harness their energy and passion instead of banning them. This was actually suggested in YWT’s latest correspondence to me, so I see this as a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.
YWT NEED TO SEND OUT A MESSAGE TO THE SPURN COMMUNITY AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC THAT THEY ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT SPURN.
Then (as hard as it might seem) there needs to be an agreement to forget what has happened in the past and a further agreement to commit to working for a much brighter future at Spurn. Without this nothing will happen.
For anyone who knows Spurn they will recognize that it is a complex site with lots of things to be considered for its effective management and as such requires detailed planning, good governance and effective communication.
So let’s start with a vision (for example);
At Spurn there is something big, something to be proud of. Something to get really excited about. To get people engaged and to work together people need to feel part of it not be excluded from it. Let’s get all those who care about Spurn working towards one vision.
So what needs to be done in order to achieve the vision?
There needs to be a Mission to deliver the Vision.
Re-build trust and relationships
Ensure statutory compliance
Management of the reserve
Local and wider Spurn Community
Communication and Education
Currently there are no positive messages coming out of Spurn only negative ones. The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust have suggested that all the good they are doing is being undermined by the massive amount of negativity. If they are doing some good they do need to tell us about it because currently I don’t know of any ‘good’ that is being done at Spurn.
The banning of 5 people who care passionately about Spurn is arguably the biggest communication and brand disaster so far. The first step to creating some kind of harmony down at Spurn is for the message to come out that the YWT actually CARE about Spurn-that they genuinely and wholeheartedly care about the place. This should be backed up by a robust plan that says WE CARE ABOUT SPURN AND HERE ARE THE REASONS WHY.
It appears to me that there is no mechanism for the different groups who visit Spurn to share ideas and work together. Everyone 'ploughs their own furrow' so to speak.
The way I see it, is that all of those groups of people who love going to Spurn (YWT included) form part of 'The Wider Spurn Community'. Its just at the moment it doesn't feel like a community. In order to create that sense of community, a key requirement is to bring all of those groups together 'under one roof' so to speak. Giving people a voice, listening to their views and acting upon them could be the way to start forming some much needed productive relationships.
When I say relationships what I mean are solid, genuine relationships built on trust with people working towards a common vision. That in itself requires detailed planning and a lot of hard work. Relationships currently are at an all-time low and are still heading downwards.
Bringing people together for the greater good of Spurn is the first step to delivering The Spurn Vision. Clearly this would help spread awareness and go a long way to promoting and protecting some of the features that make Spurn so special.
Taking all of the needs for everyone (statutory compliance or otherwise) is clearly a complex matter that would require detailed management and strong leadership.
Some of the wildlife protected under the SSSI is very specialist and clearly a well-structured and advised plan needs to be implemented so that all of the species listed within the SSSI have practical measures in place to ensure their full protection. The Plan can then be communicated to the management team and indeed to the wider Spurn Community. 'This is what we will do together for the greater good of Spurn'
The general management of the reserve is the responsibility of the YWT, however there is a clear need to improve the control of dog walkers, motor cycles and walkers entering sensitive areas and it is important that the overarching priorities of managing a SSSI should take precedent.
There are plenty of stakeholders who can all bring a heightened level of expertise. With such a complex place with complicated issues, expertise is required.
I'd look at Spurn as an ongoing live project. That project should be managed by a senior leadership team-that brings all of the expertise together to deliver the Spurn Vision.
Once established, and again sticking with priorities there needs to be a major communication exercise. Communication of the Management Plan to the Spurn management team and the experts who will help nurture and maintain the fragile environment and its inhabitants, and also communication to the Spurn community.
From my experience at the Spurn Liaison Group meetings it appeared to me as though the YWT want to keep everybody at arms length. They didn't want to use the passion and the expertise that is there. Lets just drop the barriers and start talking, start listening and start acting!
But wait a minute-a format for this type of plan already exists.
Spurn is a National Nature Reserve (NNR). All NNR’s should have a Management Plan in place within 1 year of gaining its NNR status. An extract from the Natural England Standard is here
1:0 About this standard
National Nature Reserves (NNRs) include some of the best examples of England's wildlife and geology.
NNRs were established under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which specified that they were for "preserving flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features of special interest in the area and/or for providing opportunities for the study of, and research into, those features". The Natural Environment & Rural Communities Act 2006 extended the role of NNRs to include the provision of opportunities for public enjoyment of nature and/or open-air recreation. The 'three pillars' of nature conservation, research and access are fundamental to NNRs.
Ninety-five percent of the area covered by the NNRs comprises Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Natural England has important statutory duties and roles on SSSIs that are set out in its Strategic Standard for SSSIs. Natural England's statutory duties and roles in relation to NNRs
Section 35 Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981allows Natural England to approve other organisations (Approved Bodies) to manage NNRs. Natural England will use this standard to ensure that potential Approved Bodies understand and have the capabilities needed to meet the standard at a specific site.
The Natural Environment White Paper (2011) and Biodiversity 2020 set out the policy context for managing NNRs. In particular, there is a need to: manage sites better; coordinate management across sites at a landscape scale; and strengthen the public's connections with the natural environment.
Working with the NNR Partnership, Natural England promotes England's NNR series and helps facilitate the exchange of information across the series. This is done by agreeing shared standards across the series with other NNR managers, by facilitating the exchange of learning, and by promoting understanding and support for the NNR series amongst government and the public. Natural England provides a contact point for each NNR managed by Approved Bodies to support these functions.
The Standard is broken down into 9 sections and my comments against each which are as follows
1. The NNR series will seek to represent the best places for England's biodiversity and geodiversity. Its Spurn- unique in Europe. The most magical place on the planet.
2. A management plan for the NNR will be kept up-to-date and will reflect the requirements of this standard. Not done. The original MP has not been updated and there is no timescale for the first draft.
3. The management of designated features and the wider reserve is exemplary. Not happening. Unimog damages the dunes and birds are disturbed. How are other species and features protected?
4. The NNR contributes to safeguarding and restoring ecosystems beyond its boundaries. Arguably (for example) barbed wire on land managed by YWT outside the reserve could be reduced/removed in light of the recent deer incident.
5. The management of the NNR provides opportunities for public enjoyment, quiet recreation and engagement. It appears to me that barriers have been built not bridges. It’s time for those barriers to come down.
6. Research into the natural environment at an NNR is promoted and knowledge is shared. Bird monitoring and ringing has been stopped after 70 years.
7. Communities and stakeholders are involved in the management of the NNR. The purpose of this blog post is to suggest something to make this happen.
8. NNR managers will work collaboratively to promote the NNR series and wider goals.
9. NNRs will support opportunities to demonstrate exemplary conservation management to others. In order to make this happen. In my view the standards currently being achieved do not get any where near exemplary. The fact that no Management Plan is even in place is clear testimony to that.
It is very disappointing that currently there is no Management Plan in place and there is no timescale for the first draft to become available. It does bring in to a wider question Natural England's role in all of this.
My thoughts on a solution are simple.
YWT need to start showing they care and to re-build relationships, and as a product of that there needs to be some trust.
They need to bring everyone who has an interest in Spurn together and at least give them an opportunity to have a say in how the reserve is managed.
There needs to be a plan in place (The Management Plan as required by Natural England would be a good place to start).
There needs to be monitoring of the Management Plan, governance, leadership and accountability.
This need to be wrapped up in an ongoing communication plan that keeps everybody informed.
Without something positive happening, the people who love Spurn (YWT included) will just keep going their own way and paths will only cross when there is something negative to shout about.
Spurn for me is the greatest place on the planet-the least we can do is start working together to protect and promote it.
So there you have it. A starter for 10 for a Blueprint for Spurn.
What are you, YWT and Natural England going to do about it?
Everything stated within this blog is factually correct to the best of my knowledge.