Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre
There is no question that Cley Marshes Visitor Centre is a huge success with visitors, but NWT is not resting on its laurels. Knowing that the visitor centre can do much more, NWT will embark on a major development in 2014. A new building – the Simon Aspinall Wildlife Education Centre – will offer considerable scope to help inspire, inform and educate existing and potential visitors about the international ecological value of Cley Marshes nature reserve, its range of threatened habitats and the breadth of species that rely on its existence.
Head of People and Wildlife, David North explained: ‘The visitor centre at Cley Marshes has led to a greater mix of visitors. Alongside adult birdwatchers, it now attracts families, holidaymakers, local residents and student groups. This is fantastic but we know, through our education work across Norfolk, that there are other groups whose needs could be better met by the centre if it were developed. These include Norfolk school and community groups and local businesses, all of whom would then have the opportunity to engage with the centre and learn about the incredible natural value of Cley Marshes coastal habitats and species, about the impact of climate change and also the amazing marine life in coastal zones.
‘The current visitor centre does not have the facilities required to easily and regularly accommodate large numbers of these groups. A new flexible facility would provide opportunities to connect these audiences with one of the most important coastal areas in Norfolk.’
At the heart of the centre’s development is a proposed new building which will, above all, reinforce NWT’s commitment to education. The new education centre will allow school, college and university groups to be better accommodated at Cley, increasing the scope for workshops and lectures. A new ‘break out space’ will encourage school groups, giving the facilities that younger pupils require. New interactive interpretation will be incorporated to supplement existing information panels. These will be on key conservation themes such as biodiversity, coastal conservation Living Seas
and the creation of ecological networks to support the migration and survival of threatened species A Living Landscape
The education centre will complement the original building’s design and will significantly increase the space and facilities (such as toilets) available for visitors. The two buildings will be connected by a courtyard with a clear canopy roof. Not only will this increase the flexibility and attractiveness of the courtyard to visitors throughout the year, it will also allow NWT to incorporate solar panels, continuing our commitment to sustainable energy at the centre.
The design proposed by LSI Architects, who were responsible for the original 2007 centre, will also mean that the space can be used by other community groups as well as to support NWT events such as exhibitions, family events and walks and talks for visitors to the reserve.
Simon James Aspinall (1958- 2011)
Simon Aspinall was a naturalist and conservationist who made major contributions to ornithology and conservation. He had a life-long passion for all of natural history, and his life and career was dedicated to working for the conservation of wildlife throughout the UK and Middle East. A graduate of the University of East Anglia, Simon combined his education in environmental science with exceptional talents as a field naturalist to develop an unrivalled knowledge of birds, their behaviour, habitats and conservation. Simon made his home in the UK at Cley on the North Norfolk coast, and the wildlife and protected landscapes of North Norfolk were a constant source of inspiration for him. He spent 19 years in the United Arab Emirates advancing the international importance and reputation of the region for environmental conservation.
Simon’s work included field-based studies of raptors and moorland breeding birds in Scotland, seabirds in the North Sea and in the Solent and Poole Bay, and as Assistant Warden at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory where he began a long-term study of the fluctuating population of the endemic Fair Isle Wren. He also promoted bird and natural history conservation across the Middle East, as Head of the Wildlife Management Unit at the Environmental Research & Wildlife Development Agency in the United Arab Emirates, and with UNESCO and BirdLife International, planning nature reserves and training local biologists throughout Arabia. With his knowledge of the wider importance of nature reserves in the Middle East Simon served as a member of the IUCN Commission for National Parks and Protected Areas.
Simon wrote extensively about birds and all of natural history. In 2010 Simon and his colleague and fellow Cley resident Richard Porter, published the 2nd edition of Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East and in 2011, one month after his death, Simon and Richard’s Field Guide to the Birds of the United Arab Emirates was published.
In 2007 Simon was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. As he fought this incurable disease from his home in Cley he continued to visit the Cley Marshes and Blakeney Point, enjoying the company of wildlife and his many friends and showing the good humour, determination and dedication to natural history, conservation and people that had marked his entire life.
Simon’s love of the whole natural world, personal and professional dedication to conservation of wildlife and wild landscapes, and his generosity in sharing experiences, ideas and knowledge about wildlife are recognised and reflected in the goals of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Centre at Cley Nature Reserve.