WILDLIFE lovers can get closer to seals than ever before after a new attraction was officially opened yesterday.
Experts say people can now get as close as just 15 metres away from the animals after work on a new seal viewpoint at Greatham Creek was completed yesterday.
The £43,400 project has seen the construction of a new boardwalk, footpath and covered viewing-point overlooking the area where seals haul out on the mudflats.
The viewing point will be open seven-days-a-week and experts will be on hand five of those days to speak to visitors.
RSPB Saltholme staff are delighted to have the new facility open and say thousands of people, including schoolchildren on educational visits, will enjoy the attraction.
The completion was made possible thanks to a £35,000 donation from Tata Steel and a further £8,400 provided by Natural England.
Ben Calvert, RSPB Saltholme’s visitor and promotions officer, said: “There has been massive interest in this project and we are absolutely delighted to have it open.
“People know that the seals are there but never before have they had this opportunity to use a location such as this one.
Dave Braithwaite, RSPB’s site manager at Saltholme, added: “For the RSPB, wildlife and people go hand in hand in our mission to save nature and we can’t do it without the support of industry and by working closely with other conservation organisations.
“This is the next piece of the jigsaw in bringing residents of the Tees Valley – and those from outside of our region – closer to the rich wildlife that’s right on the doorstep.”
Steve Simms, works manager at Tata Steel, said: “We were able to support this initiative through our Landfill Communities Funding scheme, which enables companies like ours to invest tax credits into the community.
“This collaboration successfully demonstrates that it is possible for industry and nature to work in harmony together.”
The new viewing point was officially opened by internationally-renowned documentary photographer Ian Macdonald.
Ian has been taking photographs around the River Tees since 1968 and in the 1970s captured the lives of residents of a small community of house boats at Greatham Creek.
The opening of the viewpoint marks the start of a varied programme of events for visitors to enjoy including guided walks and storytelling activities.