An Update From the Aire Valley

Hello everyone,

Firstly I'd like to introduce myself. I'm Alex, the new Visitor Experience Manager for the Aire Valley Reserves of RSPB St Aidans Nature Park and RSPB Fairburn Ings. I've previously worked for the RSPB in the Midlands out of the regional office in Birmingham and later, RSPB Loch Garten Osprey Centre in the heart of the Cairngorms. I am of North Nottinghamshire descent and spent much of my childhood mooching around Sherwood Forest: hiding, playing, laughing and learning. I wouldn't say I was an avid lover of nature back then, but I did have the fortune to grow up in an environment where it was never far away. Now however, it is my passion.

So, you may be wondering about the state of affairs in the Aire Valley given the changing environment that COVID-19 has placed upon us as a society. Well, at the time of writing this, we have open trails for all to enjoy and car parking will be free. We have had enquiries about ways of contributing towards car park payments, but as it stands, we are working on a system that allows this to occur on a voluntary basis. There will be no obligation to pay, but if you feel you'd like to help us continue our conservation work, it may be a gesture some may be agreeable towards. This will be updated at the reserve and through our social media channels, so watch those spaces for the latest updates.

I would like to stress that our social media channels, particularly Twitter and Facebook are the fastest way to get real-time updates regarding the accessibility and facility availability of both Fairburn and St Aidans. This was vital in February as we battled flooding and storms Ciara, Dennis and to a lesser extent Jorge, but nevertheless we were able to provide path conditions and visitor information each morning. This will be continued throughout for the coronavirus outbreak. In truth, we are just as affected by the availability of soaps, dispensers, antibacterial gels and sanitizers, toilet paper and other cleaning essentials to function as a reserve, as well as running on a skeleton staffing structure to minimise contact and prevent further infection. We advise all visitors to practice social distancing when on the reserve, prevent congregating at focal points such as the Kingfisher Screen at Fairburn and look out for one another's safety and wellbeing. We all have a level of responsibility to help one another through this challenging time. Again, for the latest facility information, check our social media channels ahead of your visit as our toilets may be closed at times.

That said, we have had some impressive sightings of late at both reserves. RSPB Fairburn Ings enjoyed the welcome return of a single spoonbill, two black-necked grebes and notable inclusions for a flock of whooper swan, cetti's warbler and bittern amongst others. Meanwhile, over at RSPB St Aidans Nature Park, we have enjoyed booming bittern, a barnacle goose in a  crowd of canada geese, returning black-necked grebes and marsh harrier appearances as well as hunting short-eared and barn owl at dusk at times. The reserves continue to be a beacon of hope and solitude in very challenging circumstances for all and we hope the nature and landscapes that we can connect with can help those affected by the requirement for more indoor isolation. That being said, we are endeavouring to provide more, better and deeper content on our social media channels to help those at home feel connected and excited to visit the reserve once again when it is safer to do so, and when the weather improves. If I have learnt one thing, it's just how exposed the landscape can be and how strong the winds can whip up at the visitor centre at St Aidans.

I know many contributors to this page are volunteers and we are always keen to develop new ways to continue the interactions that we all benefit from as part of the RSPB family. With face-to-face visits and meetings now restricted, we want to know if you could contribute towards online content such as a blog of your experience so far as a volunteer or birdwatcher, family visit or even creating a quiz. Let us know if you want to help us all stay connected by emailing myself at Alex.Wilson@RSPB.ORG.UK or and we look forward to seeing what we can do to enhance our outreach at this challenging time. We are one team and we will not stop in our mission to save nature.

Lastly I would like to thank you all for giving me a generous and warm welcome to the team and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you all. I have been taken aback by the knowledge, passion and skill set our staff and volunteers have and it is a privilege to work alongside you.

Warm regards,

Alex Wilson - Visitor Experience Manager, RSPB Aire Valley Reserves

Alex Wilson

Visitor Experience Manager

RSPB Aire Valley Reserves