The journey towards re-opening was a challenging – but rewarding – one for the visitor centre teams across Scotland. It took a huge amount of planning from people all across the Scottish Wildlife Trust. This time last year, the ideas of social distancing, screens, face coverings, and online booking systems were quite foreign to us, but we’re proud to say that we’ve quickly become very confident with the “new normal” since re-opening earlier this month.
The visitor centre staff at Montrose Basin and Loch of the Lowes have enjoyed sharing their re-opening journeys on social media and in person with regular members. If you haven’t had a chance to visit yet and would like to hear our stories, then read on for two glimpses into the world of working out how to re-open a wildlife centre in the year 2020.
The Montrose Basin Visitor Centre was set up for one of its most exciting years since opening at the beginning of 2020. We were on track for having our busiest season ever, our new events schedule was just getting underway, it was the Year of Coasts and Waters, and we were looking forward to celebrating our 25th anniversary. It was tough on the whole visitor centre team when we began to come to terms with how many implications lockdown was going to have on our 2020 plans.
The Montrose Basin team were furloughed for most of lockdown, but that doesn’t mean we stopped thinking about our wonderful workplace. In fact, staff members had regular socially-distant meet-ups by the Basin (always sticking to the government guidelines of course). We felt incredibly lucky to live in walking distance from such a stunning wildlife reserve, and we noticed that a lot of other Montrose residents felt the same way too.
The prospect of re-opening the centre when we returned from furlough was a daunting one, but we knew it would be worth all the hard work. After a lot of home-working research and planning, returning to the centre for the first time in months was a huge relief. And it helped to be immediately greeted by my first osprey sighting of the year too (I’d be looking all throughout lockdown! It just shows how great the visitor centre is for views of the Basin’s wildlife).
Once we were properly back in the centre, we worked flat out to get our centre up to the Scottish Government and Tourist Industry’s standards – we set up screens, got our online booking system up and running, planned out visitor flow systems, created signage… The list felt never-ending. But we got there!
We’ve been open since 13th August and we’ve been so pleased with the reception. We’ve met some really keen people who had never visited us before, and we’ve welcomed back some regular members who, to our delight, are impressed with the new post-lockdown set-up.
2020 may not be what any of us wanted or expected, but it’s a comfort seeing wildlife is just continuing on regardless. We’ve been seeing ospreys fishing over the Basin daily, pink-footed goose season is fast-approaching, and we’re still anticipating our first kingfisher sighting since breeding season began back in March! Remember to book online if you’re thinking of visiting to avoid disappointment when you arrive at the centre.
Montrose Basin Visitor Centre Assistant Manager
Loch of the Lowes
For the staff at Loch of the Lowes, lockdown could not have come at a more frustrating time of the year. From the start of the year we’d been preparing to welcome back our resident pair of ospreys, welcome new volunteers, new members of staff and of course an influx of nature loving visitors.
On the 21st March our resident male osprey LM12 landed on our webcam nest for his 9th year of breeding at Lowes. Unfortunately, his mate LF15 did not return and instead, a new female with the colour ring NC0 arrived 28th March. Lockdown came into effect on the 23rd March meaning that all staff, and volunteers were thrown into a new world of working from home or furloughed for the next 4 months.
In the first few weeks we were treated to some text book osprey courting behaviour via the webcam. While we all beavered away in the background to make sure we protected the osprey through our 24 hour nest protection watch; provided videos, social media and blog posts as well as quizzes and interesting suggestions to keep people busy during this odd and trying time.
Then disastrously in the second week of April, after a prolonged period of high winds and some human disturbance, our newly formed pair abandoned our lovely webcam nest…
PT0, a juvenile osprey that fledged from Lowes in 2018, landed on the Birds of Poole Harbour webcam nest on 20th May. A very welcome relief to know that she had survived her migration and had come back to the UK for a visit.
From April to July we kept an eye on the webcam nest and listened to the glorious bird song on the loch, watched Visit Scotland webinars, sourced perspex screens, masks, hand gel and created a ‘return to the centre’ action plan.
Fortunately, for us the wildlife did what wildlife does best and when we finally returned to the centre in mid-July, we were welcomed by squirrel kittens, ducklings, a juvenile osprey and many fledgling woodland birds like nuthatch, coal tit, spotted flycatchers and redstarts.
Grateful for our chance to return to this wonderful reserve, we set about implementing all the changes that the Scottish Government and the Tourism Industry had set to make us as safe as possible in the new normal, post-lockdown reality. It took us a little longer than we have anticipated but the changes we’ve made to the centre have been well received and visitors coming in over the past few weeks have really appreciated the extra lengths we’ve gone to keep them and ourselves safe.
Visitor numbers are restricted now but it means we can make a more enhanced experience where people get one to one time with our staff and hide guides. So if you’ve not been to Loch of the Lowes yet this year please consider visiting but please make sure you book your entry ticket before you travel to avoid disappointment.
Loch of the Lowes Visitor Centre Assistant Manager
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The journey towards re-opening was a challenging – but rewarding – one for the visitor centre teams across Scotland. It took a huge amount of planning from people all across …