May 22 2013 Latest news:
By Craig Robinson
Monday, September 3, 2012
CONSERVATION chiefs at a nationally important nature reserve last night defended themselves against claims of “rampant commercialisation.”
Stephen Graham, of Reading, has written to the EADT following a recent trip to RSPB Minsmere.
He said he left the reserve “dismayed by the rampant commercialisation” and compared the site to Disney World.
He was also critical of weekday maintenance work – such as grass-cutting and grass-burning – that he claimed disturbed his visit.
Last night Adam Rowlands, senior site manager at RSPB Minsmere, said the society was sorry to hear of Mr Graham’s experience.
“Our visitor facilities have been recently refurbished to provide the opportunity for more people to enjoy our UK wildlife. As part of this, our welcome area has been expanded, offering the opportunity for all our visitors to get more out of their visit. We can offer insider information on what to do and where to explore so that everyone has a tailor-made experience.
“The membership and the other income streams that we generate enable us to save nature – locally, regionally and internationally. That financial income benefits wildlife directly and ultimately benefits us all by providing beautiful natural experiences.”
Mr Rowlands, pictured, said the society used to close Minsmere to allow conservation work to take place but this often led to disappointment for those who had travelled a long way to find it was shut.
As a result, the RSPB opens the reserve seven days a week and endeavours to warn visitors where any work is taking place.
Reporter PAUL GEATER was born a mile from Minsmere, at Eastbridge, and has been a member of the RSPB and a regular visitor to the nature reserve for 25 years. He is convinced the conservation body is doing the right thing.
AS A child I knew that Minsmere was a bird reserve – but back in the 1960s and 1970s it was rather a mysterious place.
There were signs telling the public to keep out, and the only people to visit it were keen birdwatchers in camouflage outfits with long telescopes.
As a country boy I knew what all the common birds looked like, but I wasn’t a keen birdwatcher. Minsmere remained a bit of a mystery.
I first went to Minsmere with my wife in 1987. We joined the RSPB on the spot and discovered the nature trails. There was a small shop and people seemed friendly enough. But as a newcomer to birdwatching I did feel something of an outsider.
We had no children at the time, but even on a summer weekend there were very few youngsters about. Those who were there were constantly being told to “shhhhh” by anxious parents and even the guides.
The decision to develop a proper visitor centre has changed all that. Now children are positively encouraged.
That has to be good – youngsters who have seen Springwatch on the television and then go out and see nature in the flesh are much more likely to have an interest in the environment.
There is a well-stocked shop and good cafe at Minsmere these days (the rhubarb crumble is to die for) but no-one forces any visitors to buy anything there.
And while no-one wants to hear shouting in the hides, experience shows that wildlife can live side-by-side with visitors.
The Minsmere for 2012 is a beacon showing that nature can be accessible to all.
If you want to be alone there are plenty of footpaths through nature-rich areas of East Anglia where you are unlikely to meet anyone else (try Dingle Marshes, just to the north of Minsmere, for a start). But if we are going to encourage large numbers of people to have a real love of nature, then Minsmere is doing a wonderful job.
“Without this management work, there would be very little habitat available to the wildlife that makes the reserve so special,” he said.
Mr Rowlands continued: “We endeavour to ensure we provide the best possible experience for people visiting Minsmere. This is reflected in the large volume of complimentary feedback that we receive from visitors.”
In his letter, Mr Graham said he first visited Minsmere 35 years ago – when the visitor centre was a wooden shed.
“On my latest visit it has been supplemented by a glass reception area, complete with a Disney World meet-and-greet welcoming and a blatant commercialisation of the visiting experience,” he said.
“Access to the reserve is no longer down the path to the access road, but carefully directed through the gift shop. Naturally the shop now contains all the revenue generating items needed to bring in the cash to sustain the organisation, its staff and its conservation.
“But one does have to ask: do the ends justify the means? Can the pursuit of money, for whatever good cause, justify the commercialisation of an organisation into just another corporation?”
Sir, - I visited the RSPB’s flagship nature reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk on Monday, August 13, whilst visiting our parents, but left at the end of my visit dismayed by the rampant commercialisation of a site which I first visited as a small boy in the mid-1970s.
When I first visited Minsmere 35 years ago, the visitors’ centre was a wooden shed, later a 1970’s style prefab opposite. Then came the green challis complex, now on my latest visit it has been supplemented by a glass reception area, complete with a Disney World meet-and-greet welcoming and a blatant commercialisation of the visiting experience.
As I only visit once a year, RSPB membership is a bit academic, but I always have to navigate the sales patter of “Oh you’re not a member? You can join here and now.
“If you don’t want to and you’re wowed by your visit, you can join later and get a refund of your entrance fee.”
It’s obviously a scripted dialogue, complete with a lack of eye contact.
Access to the reserve is no longer down the path to the access road, but carefully directed through the gift shop.
Indeed, if you visit the toilet block, there’s a one-way system, so you have to go back round through the gift shop to regain access.
Naturally the shop now contains all the revenue generating items needed to bring in the cash to sustain the organisation, its staff and its conservation.
As my travel arrangements dictate a weekday visit, I almost inevitably have to pay the price of some sort of disturbance by one work party or another.
On the Monday I visited it was grass- cutting in front of the North Hide, on the Tuesday when I visited the Public Hide, large-scale grass burning.
I presume that the weekends are left free, simply because people visiting the reserve want to see birds on the Scrape, and would be up in arms if all the birdlife has been flushed yet again by a rolling calendar of maintenance work, which is simply self-perpetuating.
The RPSB is now big business, the largest conservation organisation in Europe, over one million members and a budget of over £90million a year.
But one doe’s have to ask: do the ends justify the means? Can the pursuit of money, for whatever good cause, justify the commercialisation of an organisation into just another corporation?
I shan’t be visiting Minsmere again for some time.
It’s not the price of the ticket; it’s not the quality of birding, which is influenced by the time of year I can get holiday from works.
It’s the corporate sell-out of a site which captivated and encouraged my early birding, but which has now been roughly shoved out of the way to make way for as much revenue generation as they can get squeezed out of the day to sustain an organisation which is in danger of just becoming another anonymous big business.
n Do you agree or disagree with Mr Graham’s views? Let us know by writing to The Editor, East Anglian Daily Times, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org