A history of the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve before the Discovery Centre project
BEFORE THE DISCOVERY CENTRE
Part 1: from the founding years to the Kiosk and the Layton Legacy
1970 Rye Harbour Nature Reserve was established by East Sussex CC and Rother DC as a Local Nature Reserve, just after Pagham Harbour was established in West Sussex. Both were created after much groundwork by Sussex Wildlife Trust and Sussex Ornithological Society.
1973 The Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve was established and from early on, there was a desire to better inform and involve the public about the reserve and to recruit more members of ‘The Friends’. From the early 1970s public talks throughout the local area and beyond, alongside walks through the reserve, were provided by local naturalists Breda and Ernie Burt. Similar public events have continued to the present day.
1976 Some large interpretative panels were positioned close to where the Discovery Centre is today. These depicted the waterfowl and waders one might see and were painted by Crispin Fisher.
1977 The black octagonal kiosk was installed in the car park. On the outside it bore general information, a map and seasonal wildlife information, while inside, illuminated panels explained the history and wildlife importance of the site. The kiosk is still there, bearing new information panels.
1978 The Guy Crittall Hide, erected in 1972, overlooking the Ternery Pool and funded by Guy Crittall, was equipped with a large display depicting all the bird species ever recorded within the reserve boundary, over 260 species. Free, unrestricted public access to the hides was policy. A self-guided way-marked nature trail and accompanying leaflet was established that took visitors from the car park to the river mouth and described the wildlife along the way.
1980 The Parkes hide was built with funds given in his memory. The Crittall Hide was doubled in size, both hides being equipped with interpretative information panels.
1980 Little Terns nesting on the beach were jeopardised by human disturbance, so in 1980 a Tern Watch Caravan was parked nearby, from which a relay of volunteers kept watch; over a hundred Tern Watch volunteers had become involved in the reserve’s protection scheme since it was started in 1977. The caravan became a seasonally permanent information point, transported to site each year by Rene Regendanz. It provided shelter for volunteers and an opportunity to talk with passers-by and a source of leaflets, postcards and Friends sales items.
c. 1982 The Colin Green Hide was constructed in memory of Colin’s stalwart voluntary support, without which the reserve would have struggled to achieve its management aims.
1990 The Martello Tower was investigated as a potential information centre for the nature reserve by East Sussex CC and the nature reserve’s management committee, but this came to nothing.
1998 Connie Hall moved out of Lime Kiln Cottage. She had lived there for many years with her husband Ponty, with no mains electricity or water and the sewage pumped into the river! The building lay derelict for a year and the Friends took on the lease from the Environment Agency, who gave it water and electricity while the Friends reroofed it, fitted new windows, kitchen, bathroom and heating to provide living accommodation for the reserve’s warden. This was in addition to the accommodation for the reserve’s manager at Watch Cottage, purchased by the Friends in 1986. During renovation it was John Gooders, the Chair of the Friends at that time, who suggested adapting the cottage’s garage as a visitor facility.
2008 A Lime Kiln Cottage replacement was proposed by the Friends and a design drawn up but funds (for a £800k project) could not be obtained. In retrospect, the design would have soon proved inadequate with the increase in visitors we have experienced. Reserve Manager Barry Yates still has the plans.
2014 The Friends received an unexpected legacy of over £1m from Joy & David Layton. This set the ball rolling for renewed plans in conjunction with Sussex Wildlife Trust (who had taken on the nature reserve’s management from ESCC in 2011). From their existing funds, the Friends decided to commit a further £500k to the project.