Monkton Nature Reserve will not be able to reopen until Spring 2021 and has had to make five members of staff redundant.
The 16 acre wildlife oasis off Canterbury Road, Monkton, shut in March due to the pandemic regulations but trustees say it has not been possible to make the site covid secure and the huge loss of income has made the redundancies necessary.
As a not for profit charity the Thanet Countryside Trust, which runs the reserve, is not permitted to fall into debt. Job retention scheme funding meant wages could be paid during furlough and a Small Business grant has covered current overheads but the loss of Summer trade – when most operating profits are made – and uncertainty of when day to day running can return has had a huge impact.
A statement from the Trustees says: “It is with great regret that we are sorry to say that we cannot open to the public soon; we have decided to work towards re-opening in Spring 2021. We will only do so when we have everything in place to keep everyone safe.
“The many indoor and outdoor tasks that need to be done can only be carried out under the most careful ‘Covid-secure’ protocols and following all essential risk assessment. With the amount of detail in the current advice that requires quantifying and putting into action, we cannot, in good conscience, open the reserve without spending quality time assessing the situation, especially when contracting the virus is still possible. We care too much about all our users to risk rushing back, thus contributing to a second wave of this pandemic.
“We’re continuing to closely follow Government guidance; our site and associated facilities are varied and at the time of this communication do not ‘completely fit’ the current business and leisure categories that have been listed for significant easing of the lockdown restrictions.
“It is with a heavy heart that we have to advise that a painful outcome of the compulsory closure of the reserve has been the need to let our directly paid staff go; this was unfortunately necessary due to our financial situation – coming out of winter into a spring lockdown, followed by the complete loss of day-to-day income usually provided by an open reserve during the summer months.
“With no future foreseeable income but with continuing overheads we could not expose the Trust to any risk of financial deficit. We have engaged individually with all the staff concerned and provided redundancy packages. We wish them all the best for their future employment and thank them for their dedication and support.”
Twins Trevor and Les Shonk have volunteered at the reserve for some 25 years.
Les said: “We haven’t got the infrastructure or the people to make the site Covid secure at the moment and there is always a worry of a second wave.
“We want to ensure we come through this stronger and make sure it will be here for the future. There are challenges ahead but there are also opportunities and we will make sure we maintain the reserve the best we can.”
Les said the Trust would ideally like to re-employ the staff when it is able to reopen the nature reserve.
Trevor added: “We as trustees have gone through a very difficult time We have gone through the process where our staff come first, but with no income.
“The trustees have to put the reserve’s future first for future generations. It’s an oasis of nature. As trustees we now do three days a week trying to get the reserve ready. We have on board Dr Clive Nuttman who is overseeing our future and restructuring.
“Thank you to all our members and volunteers and donations of any kind. Books are our biggest form of income, pre loved as we call them. Thanks to every one for doing their bit in these unpredictable times.
“Whatever happens the reserve will always be here.”
The Thanet Countryside Trust trustees are Trevor Shonk (Chairman), Geoff Orton, Les Shonk, Steve Villette and John Way.
The Reserve is in an old chalk quarry, last excavated in 1958. It was rescued from becoming a county council rubbish tip in 1985 on the condition that it became a nature reserve and study centre. The Trust was particularly anxious to protect one of the last natural assets on Thanet because, apart, from the coastal cliffs and seashore there are very few areas of natural habitat left on the island.
It is a haven for wildlife and also has family activities, a picnic area, education programmes and hosts the Monkton Stargazers.
Find out more about the reserve on the newly revamped website (some parts of this are still under construction) at https://monkton-reserve.org/
Photos Thanet Countryside Trust