Kirsty Nutt describes an exciting collaborative project which saw a volunteer group work with Aberdeen Foyer and HMP Grampian to deliver a new viewing structure

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attended the official opening of the Dunbar hide at Loch of Strathbeg. If you’ve not been yet, I would encourage you to pop along as it’s already provided great views of otters and a wintering bittern.


                 The new Dunbar hide

The new viewing structure is the result of an innovative collaborative project which saw volunteers from the Aberdeen & District RSPB Local Group take the lead. The group who regularly contribute to Strathbeg through volunteering and fundraising, led on raising the funds, overseeing the construction and recruiting collaborators.

These collaborators included a number of other charities, organisations and local businesses. All of whom were invited along to celebrate at the official opening.


                  Celebrating the official opening

The Friends of Strathbeg and local branch of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) provided critical donations to turn the possibility into a reality. Aberdeen Foyer agreed to supply labour to replace boardwalk timbers as part of their Introduction to Construction initiative, and HMP Grampian staff and inmates volunteered their time to construct the new hide at the prison. It was then transported and erected on site by four members of staff and two inmates. Check out photos of the hide being constructed in this blog from a few months ago.


                 Jim cuts the ribbon

Local group member Jim Dunbar, for whom the hide has been named, was also at the event and had the honours of cutting the ribbon. Jim was warden and later site manager at Loch of Strathbeg, working here for more than 21 years. He continues to be passionately involved in the reserve to this day through his volunteering with the Aberdeen & District RSPB Local Group.

That’s really all I wanted to say, so I will just leave you with a few words from folk involved in the project.

Mark Sullivan is the Chairman of the Aberdeen & District RSPB Local Group. He said: “This new hide has been a great opportunity to work with other charities in the area and has enriched the training opportunities for teenagers and prison inmates. The successful completion is due in no small part to Rob Leslie's project management, liaising with all parties, including the staff and volunteers at RSPB Scotland Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve. Many thanks also go to the Local Group members for financially supporting the project and providing volunteer labour. Since completion, the hide has already been a great hit, getting visitors closer to fantastic wildlife such as otters and wintering bittern and we are delighted to be able to celebrate this great testament to the power of collaboration. We hope it continues to be a resource to be enjoyed by the local community and visitors to Strathbeg for many years to come."

Harry Buck from Aberdeen Foyer, said: “It was a privilege for the Foyer to be asked to construct the walkway at Loch of Strathbeg. Being involved with and helping the wider community has always been part of the Foyer’s ethos. Undertaking this project gave a group of our trainees an excellent opportunity to make use of their training to accomplish a task which was real and would be in place and used by the public for many years to come. The trainees we work with are endeavouring to move into employment and a project like this gives them real experience for inclusion in CVs and job applications and something tangible to discuss at experiential interviews. We can only thank RSPB Scotland for allowing the Foyer to be involved and are pleased that our contribution helped to achieve your objective.”

Andy Cooper from HMP Grampian said: ““HMP Grampian is the first of the community facing establishments. It's all about unlocking potential and transforming lives so getting involved in a good cause (the Loch of Strathbeg hide project) was a way for us to give back to the community. Those in our care were involved in the construction of the hide. Some of the men had never worked with wood before so the project turned out to be a great learning tool. We also ran the John Muir Award at the same time which resulted in six of the men and two staff achieving a John Muir Discovery award. Through this work with RSPB Scotland, we’ve now been asked by the National Trust to build a hide for them at Crathes Castle allowing us to work in the community helping out with another good cause.”

Richard Humpidge is RSPB Scotland’s Site Manager at Loch of Strathbeg. He said: “It’s been really great to work with HMP Grampian, Aberdeen Foyer, the Aberdeen & District RSPB Local Group and others on this project and we are really grateful for their help and support. It’s a great example of how by working together we can achieve so much more”.