Where it all began
The Scottish Seabird Centre is situated at North Berwick harbour - an area which has always been the historic heart of the town and the place to which visitors are drawn. In medieval times those visitors were pilgrims on their way to St Andrews and today visitors to the Centre pass the restored porch of the historic Old Kirk on Anchor Green, where the pilgrims would pray for a safe crossing across the Firth of Forth.
Many people remember the area as the site of the open air swimming pool. North Berwick became a popular tourist destination in the nineteenth century, helped by the arrival of the railway in 1849, and the sea-water pool was developed to cater for the tourist trade.
By the early twentieth century, the harbour area was a lively place in summer as residents and visitors alike flocked to the pool, plus the variety shows and Saturday night dances held at the harbour pavilion.
These prosperous times lasted into the 1960s, with midnight galas at the pool featuring live music on the esplanade. By the 1980s the nature of tourism was changing and, like many British coastal resorts, North Berwick suffered as more and more people went abroad for their holidays. The outdoor pool was still open seasonally but was expensive to maintain and slowly fell into disrepair.
In the late 1980s, local businessman and community councillor Bill Gardner had an inspirational idea. North Berwick had a unique asset standing just 2.5 miles/ 4kms offshore: the Bass Rock and its spectacular gannet colony. A keen ornithologist, Bill knew the colony to be of international importance and also that the technology existed to allow a non-invasive, closer view of the birds from the shore.
Nearly 10 years of hard work, dedication and dogged determination by a team of local supporters followed to turn the dream into reality. Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple, whose family has owned the Bass for the past 300 years, supported the project. The Scottish Seabird Centre was registered as a charity and trustees were appointed including the eminent seabird biologist, Dr Bryan Nelson.
Tom Brock, a zoologist and tourism manager with international experience in waterside revitalisation, was appointed as Chief Executive to take the project forward.
The campaign gathered momentum and construction began in March 1999. The distinctive building, with its swooping copper roof designed to resemble a bird’s wing, created a stunning new landmark at the harbour. Local man, Frank Thomas, galvanised support in the area and chaired the Volunteer Support Group which continues to work tirelessly in support of the charity.
On 21 May 2000, the Scottish Seabird Centre was officially opened by HRH Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay. A carnival atmosphere prevailed at the opening ceremony as bands played and crowds gathered to celebrate the new Centre and the achievements of all those who had worked so hard to make it happen. In the long history of North Berwick’s harbour area, a new chapter had begun.
Neil Rankin CB CBE was the Chairman of the charity for over 15 years covering key events including our official opening, the Queen's visit in 2009 and the re-opening of our extended Kids' Zone by David Bellamy in 2011.
David Windmill was appointed Chairman in July 2012 and he brings a wealth of experience to the Scottish Seabird Centre as previous roles include Chief Executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (2002 to 2011) and Managing Director of Marine Harvest Chile and Scotland (1994 to 2001).
Since 2000, the Seabird Centre has successfully revitalised the historic harbour area and North Berwick as a popular town for people to visit. The award-winning Centre is also a well-used asset for local people all year round, has a comprehensive schools programme, undertakes conservation work and campaigns on environmental issues.
The Seabird Centre has continually improved since opening and we are now working hard to build on the success of the Centre by creating a National Marine Centre for Scotland to achieve more of our charitable objectives. Click HERE for further information on the project.
For all the information on key moments in history since we opened, pick up a copy of our guidebook from the gift shop priced only £4.95.
Click HERE to view A Dream Takes Flight - a film all about the inception of the Seabird Centre.