Dramatic weather didn't dampen the spirits of VIP visitors to RSPB Bempton Cliffs last week, who experienced the award-winning nature reserve on a very wild, un-June-like day.
Professor Sir John Lawton, Vice President of the RSPB, and Drew Bennellick, Head of Landscape and Natural Heritage with the Heritage Lottery Fund, were given a guided tour of the reserve by Bempton Cliffs' site manager, Keith Clarkson, as thick fog shrouded the surrounding farmland and winds gusted at around 40mph across the cliff tops.
Keith Clarkson said: "Bizarrely, the adverse weather made for great viewing. The strength of the wind made it difficult for some seabirds to cope and we had to rescue and release a number of them from the surrounding fields.
"It also meant there were incredible eye-level views of most of the seabirds - there were razorbills hovering almost close enough to touch. Sir John has visited the reserve, on and off, since 1971 but he has never seen it looking as wild as it was today."
RSPB Bempton Cliffs was awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant of £640,000 in July 2013 to fund a new seabird centre and help the RSPB engage more people with the natural heritage of the Yorkshire Coast. A key aspect of the project was to make it accessible to all.
Taking advice from people with disabilities, the RSPB ensured the seabird centre and viewing platforms were designed appropriately. Three of Bempton's six viewpoints are now fully accessible to wheelchair and pushchair users and are linked by a circular hard-surfaced path, leaving little doubt the reserve is living up to its reputation as the most accessible seabird colony in the UK.
Sir John and Drew were also introduced to Leo Kokoszko, a young man with autism, who for the past two years has regularly volunteered at RSPB Bempton Cliffs. Leo told them his experiences at the reserve had been 'life changing' and the support and guidance he had received from the RSPB team had given him a confidence and self-belief that he had never dreamed possible. So much so, Leo now mentors another autistic volunteer.
The visitors were also impressed by the sustainable business model Bempton created, with the help of the HLF.
Keith added: "A dynamic change in approach has turned a deficit into a £100,000 profit and enabled the RSPB to re-invest in infrastructure improvements, cover all our conservation and education costs at Bempton Cliffs and on our sister seabird reserve at Coquet Island. It had also resulted in visitor numbers rocketing to over 100,000 in the centre's first year."
For more information on RSPB Bempton Cliffs, visit www.rspb.org.uk/bemptoncliffs or follow the Facebook page: search 'RSPB North Yorks & East Riding'.