Many happy returns for Montrose Basin Visitor Centre

Montrose Basin 20th anniversary celebrations on Saturday, June 27, 2015 - 20 years exactly to the day since it was opened by Magnus Magnusson.  Contributed/freelance pics
Montrose Basin 20th anniversary celebrations on Saturday, June 27, 2015 - 20 years exactly to the day since it was opened by Magnus Magnusson. Contributed/freelance pics

Unlike Magnus Magnusson’s famous catchphrase, what he started 20 years ago in Montrose is far from finished.

Indeed, the Montrose Basin Visitor Centre has gone from strength to strength and is now a jewel in the crown of Scottish Wildlife Trust’s properties.

The former Mastermind host could not have known back on June 27, 1995, just how popular the facility he was opening would become.

And this Saturday, June 27 – exactly 20 years since that opening – the centre’s staff and volunteers will be on hand to welcome visitors to their birthday celebrations.

Emma Castle-Smith, visitor centre assistant manager, said: “Our teacher naturalists will be on hand to take wee ones out pond dipping or on mud safaris.

“We want to get as many people through the doors as possible to come and explore what the visitor centre has to offer.

“We’ll be celebrating the fact that the centre has been going strong for 20 years, thanks to the hard work the volunteers have put in to make this place what it is.

“It will give our volunteers an opportunity to speak to the public and share the vast amount of knowledge and wisdom they have about the basin.”

There are around 58 active volunteers, mainly from the Montrose area but some from as far afield as Stonehaven, Arbroath and Laurencekirk.

The visitor centre provides the perfect vantage point to spot the wildlife from its panoramic viewing windows.

Birds flock to the tidal basin – an enclosed estuary of the river South Esk covering 750 hectares – to enjoy its natural habitat on the outskirts of Montrose. There is also a sandmartin wall, salt marshes, salt pans and
mud flats.

Being home to over 50,000 migratory birds, including pink-footed geese, Arctic terns, knots and sedge warblers, the visitor centre’s hides obviously attract twitchers from all across the country.

But the visitor centre is also an education breeding ground for youngsters, keen to find out more about the world around them.

Emma said: “In May 2002 we began our teacher naturalist programme. Led by Alison O’Hara, there are around 12 teacher naturalists who regularly escort youngsters on mud safaris and pond dipping experiences.

“The naturalists have a range of day time jobs but they are very knowledgable about the wildlife that lives and visits the basin.”

And there are a vast number of species which call the reserve home; currently people will be able to see moorhen, blue tit and dunnock chicks and it is hoped common tern and sandmartin chicks will soon be
hatching.

“There’s always something happeneing at the centre,” said Emma. “It’s an incredibly important place for wildlife and migrating birds, in particular, as there is such a range of natural habitats.

“It’s quite a unique attraction as it’s almost a fully enclosed basin, with fresh water coming in via the river.

“We have everything from eider ducks to buzzards and sparrow hawks here, as well as seals, stoats, butterflies, bees and, of course, all the mini beasts which live in the mud and ponds.

“We want people to walk away having had an amazing wildlife experience; happily we have a lot of repeat visitors which shows that’s what we’re providing!”

The sandmartin wall opened in 2002 to encourage sandmartins to breed on the reserve and internally the visitor centre was upgraded and enhanced in 2004.

But those who were at the opening on June 27 1995 would still recognise the facility if they rocked up this Saturday for its birthday party open day from 10.30am to 5pm.

Entry is free and tea, coffee and snacks will be available. The mud safari and pond dipping tours are expected to set off around 11am, 1.30pm, 3pm and 4pm.

Emma added: “We want as many people to come along to celebrate our birthday as possible and, as our open day is free, we hope lots of locals and visitors from further afield will come along.”

* The Visitor Centre is open all-year-round – from March 1 to October 31 from 10.30am to 5pm and Friday to Sunday from November 1 to February 28 from 10.30am to 4pm.

It costs £4 per adult, £3 concessions and £7.50 for a family ticket (two adults and two children). For more information, call 01674 676336, or visit scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk.