YEARS of painstaking research by wildlife volunteers has been lost in a suspected arson blaze.
The fire early yesterday destroyed the visitor centre and bird hide at Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s 70-acre Hauxley nature reserve on Druridge Bay. The building’s turf roof was also home to a number of nesting birds and their chicks.
The reserve, near Amble, is a prime bird-watching spot and attracts between 10,000 and 15,000 visitors a year. The £120,000 centre was built in 2001.
“We strongly suspect it was arson. It is a major setback for us and it is quite depressing,” said Duncan Hutt, trust head of estate management.
Five years’ worth of records of daily bird sightings by volunteers and other wildlife research from Druridge Bay, have been lost in the blaze.
“That is five years’ worth of valuable research effort by volunteers who turn out every day in all weathers. All that hard work is irreplaceable,” said Mr Hutt.
“Hauxley is a fantastic site for birdlife and it is the trust’s main site which introduces visitors to Druridge Bay.
“It will now take a lot of effort to start again and it could be a year before the centre is replaced.” Mike Pratt, trust chief executive said: “This is a horrendous blow for the trust, its supporters and the wildlife on the site. Our immediate focus is in making the site safe but we will then look to the future and the re-construction of this important site that so many people enjoy and we will be launching a public appeal to help us achieve this.”
It took firemen an hour to put out the blaze. Fire Investigation officers are currently sifting through debris.
The centre was popular with bird watchers, tourists and local residents. The building was also used for education classes and by community groups.
The trust has also lost bird hides to fire at its East Chevington reserve on the bay and at its Big Waters reserve on the outskirts of Newcastle. At Chevington the trust has had to install metal hides as a safeguard against fires.
Hauxley was bought by the trust in 1983. The site had been part of the Radcliffe opencast coal mine. The reserve features a large lake with five islands surrounded by woodland. Last year the visitor centre was broken into.
Tony Tynan, one of the founders of Northumberland Wildlife Trust almost 40 years ago, celebrated his 80th birthday on Saturday and his family had already begun preparations for the installation of a sand martin bank at the Hauxley site to encourage the birds to nest.
A police spokesman said: “We are currently assisting the fire services investigation team with their inquiries into how the fire started.”