THE Scottish Seabird Centre has unveiled plans for a multi-million-pound expansion that would see underwater cameras installed in the Firth of Forth.
Under the ambitious proposals the attraction would increase in size and relaunch as the National Marine Centre.
A series of underwater cameras would allow visitors to observe marine life in the Forth, giving them the chance to see species such as dolphins in their natural habitat.
The revamped centre is expected to provide a unique understanding of the eco-systems and diverse wildlife inhabiting the coastal waters of Scotland.
The underwater cameras would complement their existing CCTV network trained on the diverse bird populations of Bass Rock and Fidra Island.
Dolphin pods and other exotic sea mammals would also be visible through increased boat trips into the estuary.
The Firth of Forth is home to 300,000 seabirds, which return to nest there each year, and has been described by Sir David Attenborough as “one of the wildlife wonders of the world”.
The centre is expected to provide interactive displays, information boards and exhibits on the importance and vulnerability of Scotland’s seas and marine environment.
Blueprints have been drawn up by architects Simpson & Brown – the firm behind the original centre’s design – with the total cost of the project likely to be several millions of pounds.
A self-financed charity, the Scottish Seabird Centre would meet the cost of development through fundraising.
Tom Brock, chief executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, stressed that plans were at an “early stage” and that no funding was yet available.
“Initial feedback has been extremely positive and we are keen to engage with as many people as possible to get their ideas and thoughts,” he said.
“From what we can see there’s nothing similar in Scotland.”
Mr Brock believes the expansion of the centre would bring a further boost to businesses in North Berwick and surrounding areas. “It’s going to create more jobs directly and in terms of people spending more money in local shops, restaurants and, if we can encourage them to stay, hotels.”
Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “The long-term vision being shown by the Scottish Seabird Centre is excellent. It will expand the education and conservation work of the centre as well as enhance the overall visitor experience and I’d like to wish them all the best.”
Dr John Baxter, marine adviser at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: “Scotland’s marine environment supports an amazing array of animals and plants and is also at the frontier in Scotland’s drive to a greener economy through the development of marine renewable energy.
“The centre would provide the ideal platform to celebrate Scotland’s marine natural heritage whilst making links to the exciting developments that are under way.”
Calum Duncan, Scotland programme manager for Marine Conservation Society, said: “There’s a rich and colourful world down there every bit as diverse as that on land but less well protected. We welcome the expansion of the educational facility of the [centre] to raise awareness about this world.”
visitors flock to attraction
The Scottish Seabird Centre is an award-winning independent charity, committed to increasing the awareness, appreciation and care of the natural environment.
It was opened by the Prince of Wales in 2000 and now attracts more than a quarter of million visits a year. It supports more than 70 jobs and generates more than £2 million for the local economy.
The centre was one of the flagship projects backed by the Millennium Commission which distributed cash from the UK National Lottery to cultural and heritage-related projects.