Grumpy Old Git?

We called at Minsmere last week. For those that don’t know Minsmere is a reserve under the auspice of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). This is the same organisation that runs Titchwell Marshes in Norfolk (I’m sorry if you already know this but some readers in the States will not)

During 2011/2 the RSPB made some changes to Titchwell reserve and replaced hides. I did a write up of the hide design last year (https://letterfromnorfolk.wordpress.com/tag/hide-at-titchwell/) and it didn’t come out well. The new hides despite winning design awards were and are unpopular with birdwatchers.

I was surprised therefore to find a similar but perhaps worse design at Minsmere. The old Reedbed hide was in need of replacement and something clearly had to be done. A company called Gilleard Bros Ltd we drafted in to design and build the hide.

I love the RSPB – they do a great job and in the main they get it right; but a serious review needs to be made of the people within the organisation (presumably at the top) commissioning these hides.

Take a look at the photo below taken from the back of the Reedbed Hide on our visit. More photos here http://www.bird-hide.co.uk/latest-news/island-mere-hide-minsmere/


Notice anything? It’s difficult to see why anyone thought it would hide its occupants – it clearly does not. There is too much glass on both sides. Someone has already noticed this as they have put anti-collision stickers to prevent bird strikes on the glass. It beggars belief that it has to be pointed out but these constructions will only hide the occupants if they have narrow openings and are dark inside – the wish to make them light and airy to attract more clientele and drive up profits is understandable but self-defeating – there will be nothing for them to watch. Indeed the only birds close to the hide were relatively tame Mute Swans; the short marsh area was devoid of Snipe which I would have expected to see here on a bright winter’s day.

The old hide had two tiers and from what I can recall would have seated around 48 people the new hide is one tier and will seat at best 20 with standing room for perhaps another 20 (*but see the note below)

As we sat in the hide our view out was severely restricted. This is bizarre given the amount of glass in the hide but reflective surfaces just obstructed vision. In the old hide my visibility would be restricted to around 170 degrees. Now it must be 120 degrees at best.

The openings lights are over engineered. Yes they enable wheelchair users to open window flaps without assistance but a better, simpler arrangement could have been made. The lower pane of glass is wound by way of a geared wheel into the panel in front of the observer’s legs. It goes too low and leaves the surface where you put gloves, hat and camera etc. too exposed. They will easily fall out. Several items of clothing have already been lost outside the front of the hide.

The higher glass panes rise on pulleys to near horizontal. They are dangerous. In high wind they come down – an accident will happen. *It suffices to say anyone stood up can only look out through glass when it’s windy. Goodbye photographers. In any case there is just too much glass – it’s unnecessary and indeed detrimental to viewing birds.

There is a long ramp to the hide, no doubt to aid access to wheelchair users but it rises well above surrounding reeds – it needs screening.

It has to be said construction is to a very high standard. Zero marks for design. In this age of austerity a good old fashioned wooden replacement would have been more than adequate and much better than what we now have. Please, please RSPB consult a few birdwatchers in the know next time. Please.

Wow this is turning into a long post but while I’m writing I might as well get it all out. The reserve at Minsmere seems as though it’s going through a phase where it’s beginning to look like an extension of Pleasurewood Hills (the local theme park for our American Readers) Swings, play areas and statues and the like. I feel as though a Wildlife Reserve is just not the place for these things. Or am I just being an old grumpy git?

I promise the next post won’t be as long.

10 Responses to “Grumpy Old Git?”

  1. 1 Malcolm
    Feb 10, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Well said. I have been a member of the RSPB for 35 years., and I will continue to support it because it is undoubtedly a massive force for good in conservation. But in recent years it seems to have shifted its emphasis towards attracting visitors with a kind of “theme park, family day out” approach. I understand the need to reach out to new potential members, but it must balance that against the needs/wishes of the people who have been supporting it for years and who have helped make it what it is … i.e. birders. I know a lot of people who feel increasingly alienated from the RSPB even though they represent what was for many years its core membership.


    • Feb 10, 2013 at 11:39 pm

      Thank you Malcolm. You are right the RSPB is a massive force for good … they just need to review where they are going. It’s important they don’t alienate not only their old supporters but their new supporters too!

  2. 3 Tim corke
    Feb 10, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    Hi Carl
    I don’t think your a grumpy old gift. The hides rubbish. The bit I liked about the old hide, was not the hide its self but the close cut reeds in front of it. Great for pipits, snipe, even the odd bold bittern. It’s all gone. What’s the point of that. Obviously bird watchers didn’t decide where the hide should go otherwise they wouldn’t have put the bloody hide right over the top of the best bit.

    Proud to be grumpy

    Tim Corke and Liz Cornish

  3. Feb 10, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    I read this post with interest and have to say I completely agree with you. We all want to involve more people in Birdwatching, but to over commercialise the reserves in such a way, can only lead to the demise of the creatures we all support and therefore totally undermine the purpose of such bodies as the RSPB (who I incedentally have supported for over 40 years and will continue to do so) and create a fairground atmosphere. There is far too much couch culture in this world that we live, I’m sure we don’t need to be molly coddled when we’re outdoors living with nature. Change is good and I’m sure ‘hides’ can be improved to accomodate modern needs but these ‘glass monstrosities’ which are springing up, are totally wrong and so badly designed.

  4. 7 Nicole Burgum
    Feb 12, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Hi Carl

    Firstly, this is the Island Mere Hide not the Reedbed hide.Having visited Minsmere myself last week I’m afraid I have to totally disagree with you. Exceptional views of otters were seen from this hide and you know how skittish they are! It’s also a good hide to see bitterns from. As to the play area. I think it’s fantastic but being a Brownie leader maybe I would. The area is far away from the birdwatching area and is very well thought-out and engaging for children. Surely we need them to be inspired by what they find and then go out onto the reserve and find the birds for themselves. I myself had a close encounter with a Red Deer by the children’s area and so I guess they don’t mind it!!

    • Feb 12, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      Well said Nicole. You are of course correct the Hide is now called Island Mere Hide.
      You are also right Otters are skittish. I have also had good views of Otter from Island Mere hide on previous occasions having seen them up on the bank directly below the old hide down to several metres. I understand Bittern has also been seen at close range in front of the new hide. Bitterns however are not as timid as people think they are – I have seen Bitterns to within a few metres when they could obviously see me in full view. I have been in this situation on several occasions.
      As I have said frequently in the past I think it is vitally important young people and those new to bird watching get the chance to see birds and be amazed. I want others to get the same feeling of awe as I feel. I just don’t think the new design of hides will allow prolonged close encounters with birds that would create that long lasting astonishment. Many of our birds and other wildlife will inherently retire if they see movement. The very best way to observe them is from within an unlit hide.

      The play areas are great. I just don’t think they are needed within areas put aside for wildlife but these are just my views Nicole and thank you for putting the other side of argument.

  5. 9 John norris
    Feb 20, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Carl we have had this discussion about Titchwells new hide. The reserve is not a theme park. I feel the RSPB buying land to stop its destruction is just about keeping me a member. The only recent buzz I have had at an RSPB reserve was when I visited Laken Heath a couple of years ago with you, 40 plus hobbies in the air T once and bitterns flying over head. much prefer Cley, Kelling Salthouse etc the RSPB is made of profit making gurus now and it really upsets me!

    • Feb 20, 2013 at 7:46 pm

      John – good to hear from you. A lot of people feel the same way as you do; you’re not alone. The RSPB do a good job in lots of areas and they have a good following of volunteers that do thankless tasks and are amazing people but the organisation are angering many of their membership over several issues. They could take a leaf out of the NWT who are less of a business and more of a Trust.

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Feb 2013


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