WITH another winter upon us – not to mention previous years of harsh weather and the devastation and damage caused by recent storms Emma, Ali and Eleanor – it’s fair to say that South Stack has taken a fair beating over the years.
However, a recent decision by Isle of Anglesey County Council to approve our planning application for part demolition of the existing visitor centre, together with alterations and extensions, means that we can now finally improve our infrastructure to provide a provide facilities local residents and visitors with a Visitor Centre they can be proud of.
Having patched up the visitor centre for many years, the current visitor and working facilities on the reserve are now crumbling away.
The existing two-storey structure, which houses the reserve offices, staff welfare facilities and public toilets at the Visitor Centre, has reached the end of its natural life.
The building is no longer fit for purpose; is outdated and has numerous leaks and temporary repairs that need a long-term solution. Also, these buildings were not built with the intention of supporting the number of visitors now coming to South Stack.
When the original café was built, footfall was lower and there were local authority public toilets that served the non-café visitors. These toilets no longer exist and the only facilities now on site are those provided by the RSPB in the visitor centre. Consequently, we need to upgrade the on-site sewage treatment. What will the work entail?
The building design and visualisations for the visitor centre has been prepared by YGC (Ymgynghoriaeth Gwynedd Consultancy) Architects based in Caernarfon.
Close cooperation between YGC and the RSPB has meant that the final design has incorporated our requirements for the centre while also being sympathetic to the landscape.
The work will involve partially demolishing the two-storey structure and part of the single-storey structure, replacing them with a purpose-built, modern facility to include much-needed insulation to deal with the colder months and clifftop winds; double glazed windows throughout, and technology to help save and treat water. The 252m² development will offer much-improved facilities for staff and volunteers to continue their work of keeping the reserve a special place for nature and for the 185,000 annual visitors.
The new building will include café seating area, offering a ground-toceiling view through the café to open-up the dramatic South Stack spectacle. The café will also be more accessible and will be on one level, rather than the current split level.
There will also be new visitor toilets and storage on the ground floor and we will replace an existing septic tank with choughs peregrine falcon ravens skylarks meadow pipits rock pipits stonechats wren gannets curlew kestrel porpoise linnets a new sewage treatment plant.
During the building work, the visitor centre and the children’s play area will be closed for several months, from March through to Summer 2019. We are exploring whether we can provide temporary catering, but parking will still be available. We will provide more information about the timing of the works, and the short-term effects on visitors during the winter, in the coming weeks. How much will the building work cost and how will we pay for it?
We currently estimate the total cost of build to be around £830,000.
The RSPB is currently looking to cover around £570k of this and hopes to be successful in obtaining grants to cover the remaining £260K.
This covers the cost of demolition, building costs, new toilets, new sewage treatment works, professional fees and surveys.
In the current difficult economic climate - and with so much uncertainty about future financing – donations and grants are in decline, and charities such as the RSPB are having to make difficult choices about income generation.
We’re very grateful to funders who pay for aspects of our work at South Stack and to our members who support us financially with their annual subscriptions.
What is certain is that, without continued investment and improvement, the current facility would not have been able to function as a visitor’s centre at South Stack for much longer.
Our basic management costs on site are in excess of £200,000 a year, managing the coastal heathland and fields for its special wildlife, including choughs, silver-studded blue butterflies and South Stack fleawort, a flower found nowhere else in the world.
Of course, the café and shop at the site do help to offset some of these costs.
South Stack sees fewer visitors in the winter, but we remain committed to being open all year round.
The wildlife in our countryside remains under considerable pressure from a growing number of threats. Consequently, the amount of work that the RSPB and other conservation organisations have to do is increasing annually. The cost of this work grows annually too.
The RSPB is not alone among public, private and third sector organisations who are now having to turn to car park charging or entrance fees as a means of securing the future development of their sites.
Every penny raised from the car park charge will be invested in South Stack.
We fully appreciate that the decision to implement car park charges at the reserve for nonmembers has been controversial and divisive.
Over the course of the year, we have listened to a wide range of views expressed about our charging proposals and we’ve responded to the public’s opinion by trialling a more flexible charging structure and concessionary rate for Anglesey residents.
With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps our reasons for raising the money needed to implement these plans, and to continue our conservation work, were not as well explained or as publicised as they might have been. There should have been better liaison and consultation.
However, with the recent Planning Inspector’s decision to permit this work, we trust that the reasons for additional income generation will become evident as the work progresses.
We know that South Stack is a very special place for local people, as well as Anglesey’s many tourists. The current RSPB facilities provide employment for local people and volunteers who share their passion with the reserve’s many visitors.
It, therefore, deserves the enhanced facilities to match its popularity, so that an already renowned reserve can be given a new lease of life.
Before we leave 2018, we’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi gyd.