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RSPB temporarily closes St Aidan's visitor centre

Last modified: 12 July 2013

Bittern peering out from reeds

Image: Graham Catley

With regret, the RSPB has today taken the decision to close the visitor centre and car park at St Aidan’s, near Great Preston in Leeds, following the news that current landowner, UK Coal, has gone into administration. 

The carpark and visitor centre at St Aidan’s will be closed as of this evening (12 July, 2013) until further notice. However, access to the footpaths and bridleways across the site will remain open, and the RSPB Aire Valley warden and ranger teams will continue to have a presence on site to ensure the ongoing enjoyment of visitors.

UK Coal, which went into administration on 9 July 2013, had been due to hand over the site to Leeds City Council (LCC), who would then have leased the land to the RSPB. However, the current situation has created significant uncertainty over when the handover and subsequent lease will be in place. In the meantime, the RSPB has no legal tenure and cannot continue to operate the car park and visitor centre on the basis of goodwill alone.

Darren Starkey, Site Manager of the Aire Valley, said: “It is with huge regret that we have taken this decision. Since opening in May, we have had an extremely positive response to the site from thousands of visitors, and I would like to say a very big thank you to everyone who has supported us so far. 

“In the meantime, I would actively encourage people to continue using the site to enjoy the splendid wildlife and scenery.”

A number of issues caused a severe delay in UK Coal transferring the land to LCC, which meant the site was not leased to the RSPB. However, at the end of 2012, the public rights of way on St Aidan’s were unofficially opened which led to the site being heavily used. On the understanding that good progress was being made on the site transfer and subsequent lease, the RSPB decided it would be better to have a presence on site to help manage access and ensure the site was being used appropriately.

So, in agreement with UK Coal and LCC, St Aidan’s opened under RSPB management on 24 May this year, but with no formal lease in place. UK Coal has still not finalised an agreement, which has led to the RSPB’s decision to close.

Darren added: “We will continue to work with LCC and UK Coal to reach a satisfactory conclusion, ensuring all necessary agreements are in place, and will hopefully be in a position to reopen the site as soon as possible.”
Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, a number of events planned to take place on site have had to be cancelled, including the Summer BioBlitz on 20-21 July and Fun Run on 1 September. The binocular and telescope demonstration day, planned for 3 August, will now take place at RSPB Fairburn Ings, four miles away.

Due to the now limited car parking facilities at St Aidans, anyone wishing to visit the Aire Valley by vehicle is encouraged to visit the RSPB’s nearby site, Fairburn Ings, which remains fully open and has fantastic facilities.

For further information please visit www.rspb.org.uk/staidans or call the RSPB Fairburn Ings visitor centre on 01977 628191.

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