RSPB Scotland give thanks to funders, supporters and volunteers at special event
Friday 28 October saw the official re-opening of the visitor centre and volunteer facilities at RSPB Scotland Loch of Strathbeg following extensive refurbishments.
RSPB Scotland took the opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to the improvements particularly the Coastal Communities Fund, the Friends of Strathbeg and the Aberdeen & District RSPB Local Group as well as all the volunteers that make the reserve such a special place for nature.
Martin Auld, Regional Director for RSPB Scotland, said: "It's an honour to be at this special event today to be able to say thank you to all of the funders, supporters and volunteers that help us care for the reserve here at Loch of Strathbeg. We're very proud that the reserve is such an important place for nature - providing homes for rare plants, breeding terns and welcoming nearly 20% of the world's pink-footed geese each autumn - but none of it would be possible without financial and practical support from many partners and individuals."
The official opening was attended by representatives from Scottish Natural Heritage, the North East Biodiversity Action Plan Group, Aberdeenshire Council, Crimond Community Council, Coastal Communities Fund, the Aberdeen & District RSPB Local Group and Friends of Strathbeg, along with regular visitors, volunteers and neighbours.
There was an official ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 am by Elyn Zhang from Coastal Communities Fund, Bill Craigie from Friends of Strathbeg and Mark Sullivan from Aberdeen & District RSPB Local Group in recognition of their contribution to the refurbishment project.
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: "The Loch of Strathbeg is a jewel in Scotland's natural crown: it is Britain's largest dune loch and home to thousands of rare birds, plants and insects. The improved visitor centre will ensure that this internationally important wetland can be enjoyed by even more people, bringing significant economic benefits to the local area, while the refurbished volunteer accommodation and additional facilities, supported by the Coastal Communities Fund, will help conserve this spectacular habitat for generations to come."
RSPB Scotland was awarded nearly £60,000 from the Coastal Communities Fund for the improvements at the Aberdeenshire nature reserve. Their funding went towards relocating the office to next to the visitor centre freeing up more space in the farmhouse to accommodate residential volunteers as well as significantly upgrading the volunteer facilities. This was supplemented by a significant donation by the Friends of Strathbeg which helped get the project going.
RSPB Scotland is also grateful for a donation in memory of Mrs Elsie Duncan, which together with money from the Aberdeen & District RSPB Local Group funded the addition of a new window in the visitor centre and for donations from Bell Ingram Design and the family of Euan Wright that provided an excellent new viewing screen in his memory.
On behalf of the Friends of Strathbeg, Bill Craigie, said: ""I'm sure all the many supporters who bought bird food and nest boxes from us [Friends of Strathbeg] will be delighted to see the excellent new facilities that the profits were spent on." Mark Sullivan is the Chairman Aberdeen & District RSPB Local Group, he added: ""The Aberdeen and District RSPB Local Group has supported the Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve since the Group's formation over 40yrs ago, both financially and with practical conservation. This is our premier reserve and a great place to enthuse people about our fantastic wildlife. The Group is particularly proud to have supported the new viewing window in the centre which allows visitors to get closer to nature."
Loch of Strathbeg is Britain's largest dune loch and the reserve's internationally important wetland, along with woodland, grassland and five miles of secluded beach, provides homes for more than 560 species. In autumn, thousands of wild geese, swans and ducks fly in, including 20 per cent of the world's population of pink-footed geese on their migration south. In spring and summer, nesting gulls, terns and wading birds raise their young here and the dunes come alive with wildflowers and butterflies.
Richard Humpidge, RSPB Scotland's Sites Manager, said: "Providing homes for more than 560 species requires hard work by many passionate people, particularly our volunteers for many of whom volunteering with us is the first step to a career in conservation. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who is involved in the reserve including the local community, our visitors and volunteers".
The reserve currently receives regular support from local volunteers who assist with everything from taking photographs to looking after the wildlife garden to pond-dipping with school groups to helping the wardens with the heavy habitat management work. There are also two voluntary residential apprentice wardens who live in the volunteer house at the reserve.
The addition of a purpose built office, supported by Coastal Communities Fund, as part of the improvement works means that the farmhouse is now solely used by volunteers. This was a welcome step giving volunteers a space of their own, but also allowed extra bedrooms and bathroom facilities to be added. It has doubled the number of places available for the popular residential volunteering scheme hosted by the reserve. It is hoped that an additional 30 volunteering opportunities will be created each year, with all volunteers already benefitting from the newly refurbished facilities.
The reserve's volunteers gain practical experience in environmental management and conservation, while those seeking a career in nature conservation benefit from the longer-term residential opportunities on offer.
Christine Hall volunteered at the Loch of Strathbeg over the winter in 2013/14. She said: "Being a volunteer is a fantastic way to understand the work that RSPB Scotland does as it allows you to get involved with the conservation of species and get hands on experience with habitat management. Because of my time at Strathbeg and the experience I gained through survey and practical work I was able to continue on to another reserve (Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk) for three months volunteering before obtaining a year's contract at RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk as reserve assistant. Currently I'm assistant warden for RSPB Scotland in Orkney, undertaking a variety of tasks from monitoring hen harriers to creating corncrake habitat and thoroughly enjoying it."
To find out more about volunteering with RSPB Scotland visit rspb.org.uk/volunteering or to plan a visit to the reserve visit rspb.org.uk/lochofstrathbeg. Or to keep up to date with news about the reserve go to www.facebook.com/RSPBNorthEastScotland or www.twitter.com/RSPB_NEScotland.