NATURE days out seem like a million miles away as work starts in blizzard conditions on the first stage of new vision for a top bird watching site in Northumberland.
Clearance has started on the wreck of the visitor centre at Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Hauxley nature reserve near Amble.
The centre was destroyed by arsonists in 2010 and since then visitor numbers to the site on Druridge Bay have dropped from 15,000 a year to 12,500.
The trust has been fundraising for a new centre and has so far reached £36,000 which, with an insurance payout, will total £150,000 towards the £250,000 cost of a replacement building.
The job of clearing the fire- damaged site by Harbour Enterprises Ltd of Amble was delayed last year because barn owls were found to have nested in the shell of the old building, fledging three youngsters.
“It is a nature site after all, and at least the barn owls benefited,” said Alex Lister, trust Druridge Bay estates officer.
The new centre is part of a £1m plan which, it is hoped, will transform the Hauxley reserve.
The trust hopes to acquire 12 acres of land to the west of the reserve which will enable the creation, for the first time, of a circular walk around the 56-acre site.
New wetland, meadow and woodland habitats will also be fashioned and two new hides will be added to the existing six.
“It will be of enormous benefit to visitors and will encourage them to spend longer in the area,” said Duncan Hutt, trust head of land management.
“The arson attack gave us cause to pause. While this was a devastating event, we now feel we have an opportunity to re-look at the whole site and create the best wildlife viewing reserve in Northumberland to inspire people to connect with nature and heritage right along Druridge Bay.
“The trust’s vision is to encourage a wide range of visitors, from birdwatchers and stargazers to local community groups, families, walkers and cyclists.
“As well as a new visitor centre, new habitats, pathways, better facilities and improved interpretation will enhance the visitor experience and improve access.”
Birds at Hauxley are counted daily by the site’s volunteer wardens group which is funded by People’s Postcode Lottery.
They have recorded a total of 136 species using the reserve.
At the bay’s nearby East Chevington reserve, a pair of marsh harriers began nesting in 2009.
Last year two females nested and one raised three chicks.
At another nature site on the bay, Cresswell Pond, avocets nested for the second year running, making the site the most northerly breeding spot in Britain for the birds.
From this April to July, Hauxley will be in the spotlight as a rescue operation is mounted to excavate a prehistoric cemetery before it falls into the sea.
The three-year project, titled Rescued from the Sea, will focus on the Bronze Age remains after the award of £285,900 by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Run by Northumberland Wildlife Trust, the project will involve 400 volunteers and local schoolchildren.