Nature reserve names new centre after UAE conservationist, says paper

Abu Dhabi: A leading UAE conservationist who passed away last year is to be commemorated by a major new visitors’ building at one of Britain’s top nature reserves, the Abu Dhabi-based the National reported.

A special display is planned to mark Aspinall’s commitment to conservation, both in Britain and the UAE.

The Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre, announced last week, will be built at Cley, on the coast of Norfolk in eastern England, by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, wrote Peter Hellyer, a consultant specializing in Emirati culture and heritage, in the English language paper.

Founded 85 years ago, the Trust is the oldest such body in Britain, in charge of more than 50 nature reserves covering 4,000 hectares. The Cley Marshes reserve is among the largest and most important.

Aspinall’s home was at Cley and he was a frequent visitor to the marshes until shortly before his death in October from motor neurone disease.

Cley is renowned for its variety of habitats, including freshwater and saltwater marshes, a shingle beach, inter-tidal creeks and reed beds.

These attract huge numbers of wintering and migrating wildfowl and wading birds, making the area one of the most important places for birds in Britain.

With its sensitive ecology threatened by coastal erosion caused by sea-level changes, it is also an important centre for studying the effect of such changes and marine life.

The Cley Marshes reserve is listed as a wetland site of international importance under the 1976 Ramsar Convention and is also categorised in Britain as a site of special scientific interest. The new building dedicated to Aspinall will be an extension of the existing visitor centre, which attracts more than 110,000 visitors a year.

According to the Trust’s head of people and wildlife, David North, visitors include birdwatchers from Britain and beyond, families, holidaymakers and student groups.

But the centre lacks suitable facilities that would allow it to accommodate school and community groups and local businesses.

The paper quoted North as saying the new centre is in line with the Trust’s commitment to education on conservation issues and “would provide opportunities to connect these audiences with one of the most important coastal areas in Norfolk”.

The centre will include facilities for workshops and lectures, as well as state-of-the-art technology to present information to visitors.

The Trust said it would also serve as a “break-out” space suitable for younger school groups, as well as a location for small exhibitions.

A special display is planned to mark Aspinall’s commitment to conservation, both in Britain and the UAE.

He worked in the Emirates for 19 years, first as head of the wildlife management unit of the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency. He then spent a decade as one of the country’s top environmental consultants.

During that period, Aspinall wrote or edited five books on the country’s birds and environment, including Field Guide to the Birds of the UAE, the first guide devoted to the birds of any country in the region, according to the paper.

He was also strongly committed to promoting an awareness of conservation and was a popular speaker with voluntary groups in the UAE, including the Emirates Natural History Group, which he chaired for several years. Aspinall was also presented with the Sheikh Mubarak bin Mohammed Award for Natural History, the Emirates’ premier conservation award.

Found to have motor neurone disease in 2007, Aspinall made his last visit to the UAE in late 2010 before returning to Cley, where he regularly visited the area’s marshes until shortly before his death at the age of 53.

Thanks to a generous offer of support from his parents, the Trust said, the new Wildlife Education Centre would “recognize Simon Aspinall’s love of Cley Marshes nature reserve and his commitment to conservation-focused learning”.

Further funding for the new centre is being sought through a public appeal, as well as through approaches to major British and European charitable trusts and funding agencies.

Subject to sufficient funds being raised – estimated in the region of Dh4 million – the centre should be open by late next year or in early 2014.