A Blueprint for Spurn...

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?

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Here goes;

 

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);

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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

Establish priorities.

Management of the reserve

Partner organisations

Interest groups 

Local and wider Spurn Community

Governance

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.

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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!

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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

Background
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.

 

Beacon Ponds & Kilnsea Wetlands

I had a cracking trip out to 'Spurn' yesterday. The plan was to get there early and use the first hour or so for some 'creative photography as the sun rose over Beacon Ponds then move around to whatever was about of interest.

I arrived at 5.30 probably 15 minutes too late but still the sunrise was quite spectacular, helped by the fact that the ponds were flat calm.

A steady stream of subjects flew by. Gulls fighting with Sandwich terns to rob them of their prey. Waders whizzing backwards and forwards. Swallows taking their first drink of the day. A snipe flew in and landed 10 yards away from me and a kingfisher perched on a post for a minute or so. Fantastic!

As the sun rose I made my way back to Kilnsea Wetlands. As high tide was approaching ther wader numbers were building. A distant curlew sandpiper and wood sandpiper were of interest and a greenshank, black-tailed godwit, little ringed plover and juvenile yellow wagtail all showed well in front of the hide.

Not much on the rarites side, the only other bird of note for me was a pied flycatcher at Cliff Farm.

Another great morning at the UK's premier place to watch and photograph wildlife.

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Banned from Spurn

THE FIRST THING I NEED TO MAKE ABUNDANTLY CLEAR IS THAT ANY TWEETS POSTS AND ANY OTHER MEANS OF COMMUNICATING INFORMATION POSTED BY ME REGARDING THE NEW VISITOR CENTRE AT SPURN ARE PURELY MY OWN VIEWS AND HAVR NOT BEEN INSTIGATED  BY ANY OTHER THIRD PARTY ORGANISATIONS INCLUDING THE SPURN BIRD OBSERVATORY TRUST.

 

Just as I thought things were quietening down at Spurn.....

Not many reports of the Unimog disturbing waders, not many reports of motorbikes or dogs accessing the peninsula no obvious breeches of planning conditions (Well Field aside). There was nothing major to report and I was able to start spending time doing what I love most-wildlife photography at Spurn. I'd not posted anything about the Visitor Centre in over a month then out of the blue I received an email from  the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust telling me I'm banned from Spurn for my continued harassment of their staff. Eh?

 YWT Banning Letter

YWT Banning Letter

 

I have since written back to them completely rebuffing their allegation. 

In all of my time reporting breeches and infringements I have been very careful to remove any reference to names and my criticisms have always been aimed at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust as an organisation not any particular individual.

What was interesting was their reference to the 'sheer quantity of negative tweets and complaints'.

I sat in Spurn Liaison Group meetings for the first 7 months of last year making perfectly reasonable requests for information that largely were getting ignored by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.  There were only a small group of people at those meetings and when the minutes were issued they were not wholly reflective of what had been discussed and agreed.

Eventually last August I took the decision to provide my version of what was happening and make it public via my blog. It was also obvious to me that the planning conditions and other areas requiring statutory compliance were also not being adhered to.

The Visitor Centre was located in a very sensitive place to wildlife and other suitable places were available. The decision was made to build it in the triangle despite the objections of some 2800 people. I accepted the planning decision because it had been made using due process, however if it stated that something had to be done in the planning conditions then in my view it had to be done-to the letter.

If a specific requirement or action wasn't being carried out relating to statutory compliance, it had to be brought to the attention of the relevant authority (Planning Enforcement, the Environment Agency or Natural England for example). It is also important that those failings are brought to the attention of the wider public so they can form their own opinion and lodge a complaint if necessary. Ultimately I have always had the best interests of the fragile habitat and wildlife at Spurn at heart and if those entrusted to look after it aren't doing their job something needs to be done about it.

100 voices shout far louder than one.

It is important to note that the way that the planning process works, is that pre-commencement conditions have to be signed off prior to the works starting then it is the responsibility of the developer (in this case the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) that all of the remaining conditions are complied with. The council will not proactively manage every condition but they will react if something is being compromised as a result of the development. They are wholly reliant on local councillors, members of the public and other statutory bodies to advise them if they think a breach has occurred and they will make a judgement if any further action is required.

So when the YWT talk about the sheer quantity of negative tweets and complaints, I would look at the sheer quantity of infringements and breeches in the first place. Wherever there is an action (or lack of one) there is a reaction, and if there wasn't the sheer quantity of things to complain against there wouldn't  be the sheer quantity of information to tweet out.

They also suggest that maybe we could 'experience a more positive relationship in the future'. If the YWT and I have a more positive relationship in the future, that remains to be seen. But, how about creating a more positive outlook at Spurn? Most importantly, ensuring positive action is taken to ensure that the fragile habitat down there is protected properly and balanced against coping with visitors who want to experience such a magical place?

I think that the efforts of many other people as well as myself have made a huge positive contribution to what has gone on at Spurn following the granting of Planning Permission for the new VC. for example;

 

Management Plan

A Management Plan (MP) is required  by the Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations. A freedom of information request to Natural England revealed that a MP was not in place for Spurn. As a result of my complaint I was informed by Natural England that they would work with the YWT and one would be put in place 'as soon as possible'. The management plan template provided by Natural England calls for exemplar standards on a National Nature Reserve (hence my point about planning conditions and statutory compliance being adhered to by the letter). Hopefully the introduction and implementation of a management plan will now provide some better control. For example the correct use of the Unimog avoiding damage and disturbance will be stipulated within the MP. 

The Unimog itself has been better controlled as there were far too many incidents of it accessing the peninsula over high tide and disturbing roosting waders. YWT's timetable has been revised to avoid clashes and therefore reduce disturbance.

The Unimog also causes damage to the fragile dune system and hopefully that will also be addressed in the MP.

To the best of my knowledge the MP has not yet been finalised but it is work in progress.

Artificial Lighting (Planning Condition 5)

The car park lighting scheme was clearly unacceptable and the whole of the night sky was lit up when it was first switched on. The planning condition and associated references for this stated that the sky should remain 'intrinsically dark'. As a result of the complaints arising from this, the East Riding of Yorkshire council imposed a restriction on the lights that they can only be used 15 minutes after dusk so preserving the need for darkness on an National Nature Reserve.

 Car Park Lighting

Car Park Lighting

Drainage (Planning Condition 15)

The drainage scheme for the car park has potential for surface water run-off to cause flooding in the village (as stated within the Flood Risk Assessment) by highlighting this issue the drainage to the car park is currently under investigation and as an outcome any fears for flooding to occur should be removed.

 

 Car Park area showing standing rainwater proving that rainwater is not able to soak through the ground

Car Park area showing standing rainwater proving that rainwater is not able to soak through the ground

Highways (planning Condition 17)

There is a planning condition for  inspections for the highway  to take place every 6 moths by the ERYC. This is to monitor the condition of the road for wear and tear as a result of extra traffic generated by the VC.It was brought to ERYC attention that those inspections had not been taking place. However the ERYC acknowledged that and carried out an inspection. Not long after the whole road was resurfaced (I'm guessing this was done as a result of the survey) however it resulted in a positive outcome.

Signage (planning Condition 22)

The signage erected for the car park was wholly inappropriate and was not in keeping with the Heritage Coast. There was a flood of complaints against them which ended up with the YWT taking down the signs and they were replaced with something more suitable-another positive outcome.

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Drainage (Planning Condition 16)

It was a specific requirement from the Environment Agency that a licence would be required for the sewage from the VC to discharge into a nearby drain. The EA confirmed that the licence  had not been applied for and in fact an offence had been committed by YWT in not doing so.The EA have now put measures in place to ensure that the sewage discharge is properly monitored in accordance with the relevant legislation.

Wildlife Disturbance (Planning Condition 7)

Wildlife was being disturbed by YWT contractors during the works giving lots of people cause to complain. This was acknowledged by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council. ERYC stopped the works on at least one occasion for 3 weeks (there were more incidents of this nature in the lead-up to the works being stopped) but once that action had been taken there were far fewer incidents of disturbance due to the works.

Bird friendly Glass (Planning Condition 8)

A Planning Condition relating to the glass for the VC windows should have been a special bird friendly type and the proposals for the glass should have been submitted by YWT for approval from ERYC prior to being installed on site. The glass was installed in July and the following January (5 months later) it was approved by ERYC. Whilst there was no residual impact of the glass, it highlighted a failure in following the due planning process.

Recreational Disturbance (Planning Condition 10)

Incidents of dogs on the reserve, people on motorbikes and people accessing sensitive areas have occurred on multiple occasions. One of the primary reasons for granting planning permission for the Visitor Centre was to have better control over people accessing the peninsula. These incidents quite rightly have been shared by numerous people to highlight the inability to control people and prevent them from causing disturbance. Clearly this will need close monitoring and much improvement. Exemplar standards should result in far less incidents of recreational disturbance occurring as what has been happening. When the old Viistor Centre was in place it was alongside the road and the YWT had almost complete control over who accessed the reserve. The New VC is set way back from the road and I would be very sceptical over the clain that it gives better control over people accessing the peninsula.

 Reason for decision when Planning Permission was granted

Reason for decision when Planning Permission was granted

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With regard to Planning Condition 10, it lists out 7 specific requirements to mitigate recreational disturbance. At the time the building was completed none of those requirements  had actually been implemented. After some sustained pressure to Planning Enforcement, Natural England and the RSPB 5 out of the 7 points have been resolved and 2 still remain outstanding (those being the spoil in Well Field and the number of Roving Rangers deployed along the peninsula over high tide).

Barbed Wire

The highlighting of the deer trapped in the barbed wire was another example whereby the massive amount of public pressure to do something positive resulted in some of the barbed wire being removed. The television report suggested that YWT were going to do that anyway. If that was the case you have to ask why there is still hundreds of metres of barbed wire still in position and maybe another bout of public pressure might produce a result?

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Highways (Planning Condition 17)

At the second Spurn Liaison Group meeting (February 2017)I attended, I asked if a representative of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council could attend the next meeting to explain the detail around the traffic management and specifically double yellow lines.We eventually got a response 11 months later but again it was a positive result as he confirmed that double yellow lines would not be installed and anybody is perfectly within their right to park on the verges as they have always done.

There were some situations, however that could not prevent a damage or impact.

The damage to the hedgerow on Spurn Road to make way for the lay-bys for example. They were insensitively hacked to bits when a far more sensitive and caring means of cutting back the branches could easily have been used.

 Decimated hedgerow on Spurn Road

Decimated hedgerow on Spurn Road

Wildlife Disturbance (Planning Condition 10)

The creation of habitat in Well Field as required under Planning Condition 10 remains incomplete. This was required to mitigate the impact of the land lost when the Visitor Centre was built. It is in fact still full of builders rubble arising from the works.This remains a very visible advertisement to the lack of compliance regarding planning conditions. I am at a loss to understand why this has not been resolved. Surely an organisation who purports to have the protection of our wildlife at heart should have completed this by now?

 Builders rubble still in Well Field

Builders rubble still in Well Field

Communication (Planning Condition 21)

Probably the biggest failing was regarding Planning Condition 21. The objectives and terms of reference for the SLG protocol can be seen below. I attended every Spurn Liaison Group meeting and tried at every level to get the Council to apply the necessary pressure to get proper communications going. The local community had one letter from the YWT during the whole build period, meeting minutes were inaccurate and issued late. There was very little useful communications and as for repairing and rebuilding relations I will let you be the judge if you think that has happened. Also note the point about the views of the group carrying a significant weight.....

 Spurn Liaison Group Protocol

Spurn Liaison Group Protocol

 

Now it has to be said that one complaint or one message on social media does not necessarily mean things get done. Unfortunately it got to a situation where some times sustained pressure was needed to get a result. However it had already been proven that the Spurn Liaison Group Meetings were not working so unfortunately other action was needed.

A hundred voices shout louder than one.

Ultimately the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust need to realise that not only is Spurn such a magical place and very close to people’s hearts but it is also protected by some of the strongest legislation we can provide. Site of Special Scientific Interest, Ramsar, National Nature Reserve, Special Protection Area. The expectation bar is set at maximum level, Spurn is Spurn there is nowhere else like it in Europe, probably the World and that comes with a whole host of increased  responsibility.

It therefore goes without saying that failing to fulfil their obligations, allowing detrimental activities to go on uncontrolled and  failing (at times) to achieve the basic minimum standards is quite simply not an option. If those people entrusted as custodians cannot grasp the enormity of their responsibility that is their problem and they must accept that they are under an intense spotlight and recognise the need to achieve exemplar standards.

Banning people from the reserve for highlighting failure is not the solution, my only interest has ever been for the greater good of the wildlife and landscape of the place I love.

All of the points raised above are factually correct to the best of my knowledge. Thanks for reading