Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve is ‘on a really good path for the future’, according to the charity running it.
The site’s management was transferred from West Sussex Count Council to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) back in 2012 under a ten-year service level agreement.
However concerns were raised at the turnover of staff by councillors at WSCC’s Environmental and Community Services Select Committee on Monday December 14.
Adrian Thomas, a project manager at the RSPB, said their 25-year vision for the reserve would see it ‘remain much like it is now today as an important wetland nature reserve’, and added: “I think we are on a really good path for the future.”
He explained that it attracted more than 200,000 visits a year and for part of the year was home to species of international importance such as dark-bellied brent geese and pintails.
More than 150 people volunteer a combined 6,500 hours a year at the reserve, while it hosts school visits and a weekend club.
But at Monday’s meeting UNISON’s Dan Sartin explained that the reserve’s transfer had caused controversy, with a key issue how staff would be treated by the RSPB.
Of the five who transferred only one is still in post, while the redundancy process for one employee was ‘quite contentious’, and another member of staff is having their terms and conditions changed.
Cllr Heidi Brunsdon, who was involved in scrutinising the original decision to transfer the reserve to the RSPB, said they were given ‘very very strong assurances’ over staff and suggested that some might have been ‘engineered out’.
She felt the fact that staff had left was not something they could ‘sweep under the carpet’.
But Charlotte Weller, countryside services manager at WSCC, said as officers they were satisfied with the running of the reserve, and management of the staff would be an issue for the RSPB.
Cllr Graham Tyler, chairman of the committee, said they were not there to scrutinise how staff were managed by another organisation, but suggested they might look to review the management agreement again in two years’ time.
Meanwhile Cllr Derek Whittington raised the nuisance caused by jet-skiing and the operation of small inflatable boats in the harbour, and the possibility of reopening Pagham Spit Car Park.
He described it as a ‘loss of a terrific amenity’, but officers explained that although WSCC had leased the land to provide a car park the landowner chose to close it at the request of Harbour Road residents.
On the use of the harbour, officers said there was a code of conduct for boating in place for almost two years.
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