Interview with Friends' Chair Cliff Dean

18 March 2019 | Posted in SWT News , Discovery Centre
Interview with Friends' Chair Cliff Dean
Handing over the key (c) Emma Chaplin

Developed with the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre will transform people’s engagement in, and conservation of, the unique natural environment and wider heritage of the nature reserve and will be a fantastic resource for thousands of visitors. Work started on the build on 11th March. 

We spoke to Cliff Dean, Chair of the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, after he handed over the key to Lime Kiln Cottage to Baxall Construction for the start of works on the Discovery Centre. 

"It's hard to take on board because for so long it's been theoretical, but now we're moving into a material phase; now it's actually going to happen.

I've always been convinced of the importance of the project, and not just for pragmatic reasons. The reserve has developed over 40 years, with constant innovation and improvements to wildlife habitats and access. Now we need to make more of the human resource, for we have huge numbers of visitors.

Saltmarsh culvert construction 2011

How long have you been coming to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve?

Since the early 70s; I remember coming with my father around my 25th birthday, when it was all grazing land. I remember seeing hares running about. It was subsequently ploughed up and changed to arable land, until the building of the sea defences 10 or so years ago. I've seen some huge changes. The two biggest being the acquisition of Castle Water by Sussex Wildlife Trust in 1992, then the recreation of the saltmarsh ten years ago. Originally, the only wetland was Ternery Pool, but that did have one advantage in that you knew where to find the birds! Then the Trust acquired Castle Water which previously had been privately owned and used for water sports. There had been lots of disturbance, and in any case, it had steep banks, so it wasn't very suitable for wildlife. Reserve staff carried out a tremendous amount of work to create bays, spits, islands and reedbeds where birds could roost and breed undisturbed. This brought nesting bearded tits, cormorants, bitterns and marsh harriers along with hundreds of winter wildfowl.

Sea defence construction 2006

We brought our children from when they were tiny, and latterly I used to bring my elderly mother, who used one of the reserve’s mobility scooters to get about. When I was a teacher in Winchelsea, I brought my classes here too. So I know from personal experience just how much Rye Harbour Nature Reserve needs a modern visitor centre, to provide shelter, toilets and education facilities, as well as somewhere to house staff and volunteers.

How did the Discovery Centre project come about?

We knew that Lime Kiln Cottage was inadequate as a Visitor Centre, being tiny and prone to flooding, but we just didn't have the funding for a replacement. Then, out of the blue, we received a legacy in excess of a million pounds from David and Joyce Layton. The Friends had some reserves, and decided to show our commitment to realising a long-wished-for project by putting in another half million. The project board was set up, Simpson and Brown architects were selected, and then came the planning process, which was more complicated and expensive than any of us had expected. It's been a long haul. The Friends are pleased to be working in partnership with Sussex Wildlife Trust to make sure this exciting development becomes a reality.

Rye Harbour Flooding December 2013

What will it offer?

As well as being a refuge and a hub, it's critically important for education. There are four accessible habitats for study within a few minutes’ walk of the Discovery Centre: beach, saltmarsh, rough grassland and pools for bird watching. Lucy's programme of activities for young people can't currently run at full capacity because of the lack of facilities so, in a formal sense, the Discovery Centre will support schools coming on trips in greater numbers while, in an informal sense, it supports education in terms of the community and visitors, learning about the wildlife and history of the area."

LKC opening 1999

If you would like to support the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre and help foster a love for wildlife in the hundreds of thousands of people who visit every year, visit

Anyone interested in learning more about the Discovery Centre can request a monthly newsletter to keep them posted about build news, sightings of some of the outstanding wildlife at the reserve, and ways to donate to the Appeal

The Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is a charity whose 2,000 members support the Nature Reserve’s work through subscriptions and volunteering. Since 1973, it has part-funded the cost of staff, land purchase, large scale habitat creation, tools, vehicles and visitor facilities such as birdwatching hides and information centres. It provides events for its members throughout the year.

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