Stargazing events at Monkton Nature Reserve are to end with a decision taken to cease the use of the observatory permanently and explore possibilities of re-purposing the building.
The Monkton Stargazers Group was a regular fixture at the reserve until the pandemic halted gatherings. A brief return was announced at the end of last year but costs of repairing equipment and a lack of people to co-ordinate events means it has been brought to an end.
Nature Reserve Trustees adviser Dr Clive Nuttman said: “Following an uphill struggle to attempt to rekindle stargazing at Monkton, a decision has been taken to cease the use of the observatory permanently and explore the possibilities of re-purposing the building.
“This has not been done lightly and there is great sadness that an asset can no longer be used for our educational work. However, things move on, and we are confident that we will find something exciting and innovative to do with the observatory.
“The observatory and telescope require considerable expenditure to bring it up to a usable condition for public stargazing, with no available funding to accomplish this, and we do not have the capacity to co-ordinate and run all aspects of stargazing.
“Our primary ‘reason to be’ remains as a nature reserve and the enormous efforts and time that everyone puts in needs to be focused on our conservation goals and raising monies towards this end.”
The nature reserve has had a positive start to the year but is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic.
In Summer 2020 trustees for Monkton Nature Reserve had to make the painful decision to notify five paid staff of redundancy due to the continued closure forced by the pandemic.
The reserve was shut from March of that year through to June last year. With no trading income for more than a year and a slump in membership from over 600 to fewer than 100, the future had been uncertain.
Survival was underpinned through the work of volunteers, coupled with substantial support from Thanet District Council through government-backed Covid-19 grant schemes.
Membership and visitor numbers are rising but a ‘huge investment’ is needed for the observatory and telescope by the not for profit charity, the Thanet Countryside Trust, which manages the reserve.
The 16 acre wildlife oasis off Canterbury Road, Monkton, 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.