States members voted 6-3 – with one abstention from former Alderney Wildlife Trust president Ian Carter – to give the ABO three months’ notice to quit the site, after concerns had been expressed by some in the island’s tourism sector about the self-catering accommodation being made available for up to 10 visiting bird watchers at a time.
‘It’s not going to make any difference to the research,’ ABO warden John Horton said.
‘The ABO has a plan in motion. There are lots of exciting things around the corner.’
The plans include finding a new base in Alderney as well as advanced discussions about establishing a bird observatory elsewhere in the Bailiwick, which will see Mr Horton visit Guernsey, Sark and Herm next month to meet members of La Societe Guernesiaise, deputies and private donors.
The observatory in Alderney is only the 20th in the British Isles to have been established with accreditation from the British Bird Observatories Council, which was awarded in February 2019.
‘It’s nice to have the accommodation but now we can focus more on research, rather than bed-making and cleaning,’ Mr Horton said. ‘In some ways, it’s a relief to get out from under the States’ boot.’
However, Mr Horton admitted the decision, though not unexpected, had disappointed him.
‘There seems to be no forward plan, no reasoning and no explanation,’ he said.
‘The writing was on the wall going into it, with members refusing to communicate or co-operate.’
Mr Horton said some arguments made in the debate referred to elements of the previous lease held by the Alderney Wildlife Trust which were not relevant to that held by the ABO.
He also expressed concern about States members having links to the AWT, which he feels coloured their judgement.
From its inception as a pilot scheme in 2016, the ABO worked closely with the AWT on establishing the research facility at the Nunnery but Mr Horton said they fell out when the ABO announced it would set up as an independent, Guernsey-registered charity in 2018.
Mr Horton said bird watchers would continue to visit Alderney and would still have lots of other excellent accommodation to choose from but being able to stay at an observatory was generally considered a more rewarding experience by Britain’s six million enthusiasts, as it enables closer involvement. He said a recent States report estimated the value of publicity generated by the ABO for the island to be £250,000.
The ABO chairman Helen McGregor described the decision as short-sighted but said bookings at the Nunnery during the three-month notice period would be fulfilled. She thanked the charity’s supporters, on and off the island, for their outpouring of support.