Jennifer and the lovely Alice paid us a visit earlier this week. Alice has been visiting since she was a bump and thoroughly enjoys the sensory delights that are available both inside and outside the centre. She’s a firm favourite with us and the visitors.

Jennifer and Alice...

In a wonderfully serendipitous way her mum told me that Thursday 21 March is World Down Syndrome Day.  She handed me a book of amazing bird photographs but the very talented Oliver Hellowell – a young man with a superb eye for a picture and Down Syndrome. This got me thinking.

Oliver's Birds... it is magnificent

Oliver has his own Rocky... and reflection pool!

Nature is non-discriminatory in its ability to be appreciated. It can be and should be enjoyed by anybody. 

When the RSPB first bought Rainham Marshes way back in July 2000, we were left by the MOD with a fairly, blank canvas to play with.  Our goal was to return an ageing, out of shape medieval marsh to its ancient lowland wet grazing marsh glory and in this we have succeeded.

However, it also allowed us to create a new reserve within the M25 and in sight of the Thames and London with a visitor centre, shop, café, toilets, wildlife garden with scents and textures, pathways, hides and viewing areas that are accessible to every single visitor.

Some of the earliest groups that I ever escorted round way back in those early, pre-centre years were not local RSPB groups but clubs for young adults with learning difficulties including Downs and varying degrees of Autism. They were enthralled by their first encounters with pond life and the sensation of a snail sliming across their hands. I can still picture the wonderment on their faces.

Fast forward about 17 years or so and these groups now visit us of their own accord every week.  We are the local go to place to experience the outdoors, to feel the wind and hear the birds and summer frogs and insects.  That same appreciation is still evident and the trails and views are still allowing visiting clubs like Treetops to get their charges outdoors.

Luckily for me, occasionally I am able to tag along and take them on a mini wildlife safari which is as rewarding for me as it probably is for them.

A group came in a few weeks back and with them was a man of middling years with Down Syndrome. He looked at me and said ‘hello Howard! Do you remember me?’ He shook my hand firmly and told me that he had visited many years ago before we had a visitor centre and I had taken him and others on a walk and had had the aforementioned snail encounter.

I was smiling for the rest of the day.

I know what the marsh has done for me over the last 19 years and it is so rewarding to know that it is still working hard to enlighten people to the magic of the natural world and can touch the minds and form everlasting memories and sensations for everyone who decides to engage with the world beyond their walls.