This week, we welcomed guests from Belgium and the Netherlands to Minsmere for our twice yearly meeting with our Interreg partners. Interreg is an EU funding stream. Their 2 Seas programme funds various cross-border partnerships between countires bordering the North Sea and English Channel - Belgium, The Netherlands, France and the UK.
We have joined together with three partner organisations under the banner of Natura People, which part funded the Minsmere Discover Nature project, and twice a year the project partners get together to exchange information, share ideas and develop various elements of the project.
Natura People was launched at Minsmere in autumn 2010. We've had meetings at the Zwin Nature Park in Belgium (April 2011), Marquenterre (not a project partner but one with good links to Minsmere and the Zwin) in northern France (Nov 2011) and Grevelingen in the Netherlands (April 2012). This time it was the turn of Minsmere, and next April we visit the fourth partner site, a new reserve called Waterdunen in the Province of Zeeland, The Netherlands.
Natura People is all about connecting people with nature. All four partner sites are great places for visitors to discover nature for themselves. Minsmere is, of course, already well established and well developed for visitors. The Zwin is an established park, but the project has allowed them to completely revamp their visitor facilities. Work should be completed in 2015. Grevelingen is a large lake with many access points where visitors can discover nature in avariety of ways. The project is helping to improve the links between the various sites and organisations around the lake. At Waterdunen, an impressive new reserve is being created with artificial wetlands, many new paths and a variety of visitor facilities. Construction work starts next year.
One element of the Natura People project is improved relationships between businesses and nature conservation. The RSPB's economists have have to develop a series of techniques of measuring the value of nature conservation, both directly and indirectly, in the local economy. We're also working to improve relationships between project partners and their local businesses. At Minsmere, this includes developing a new corporate membership package for the reserve. One of new corporate members is the owner of the Westleton Crown, and we were pleased that our European guests were able to stay in this lovely hotel, just two miles from the Minsmere visitor centre. If you run a local business and would like to find out more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Of course, the meeting was not all about sitting in a room discussing business. We treated our guests to a lovely guided tour of the reserve yesterday afternoon. Highlights of this walk included the now famous cave spider in the shed beside the visitor centre, a bittern flying over the North Bushes, a rare chance to the North Sea looking as calm as a millpond, four Bewick's swans on East Scrape, and a lovely 30 minutes in Island Mere Hide at dusk watching marsh harriers arriving to roost, a water rail skulking along the reed edge and several sightings of a kingfisher. All we were missing was the otter that had showed really well not long before our arrival - typically.
We also gave our guests a few minutes to play in the Wild Zone - as you can see from the photo below (L-R: Gert-Jan Buth (Zeeland), Suzanna Maas (Minsmere), Wim de Roo (Zwin), Lies Dekker (Zeeland), Sarah Green (RSPB), Lodewijk Vormer (Grevelingen) and Rene Beijersbergen (Zeeland).)