Seabed at your fingertips

27th September 1996 at 01:00
If you want to roll around a giant lugworm burrow, Betty Jerman knows just the place. Cleethorpes is a traditional resort with a pier, bingo hall and amusement arcades at one end of its stretch of bucket and spade beaches. The Discovery Centre at the other end is unusual, even rare, in setting out to inform in an appealing and hands-on style about the Humber Estuary wildlife.

The location is outstanding with the estuary and dunes on one side and a lake on the other. Since the estuary is a prime breeding spot for mallard, lots of them inhabit the lake, along with pink-footed geese, Muscovy ducks, swans, and Aylesbury ducks.

Visitors can see plenty of interesting wildlife all year round, but from autumn to spring, thousands of migrant birds flock to this important site.

The centre resembles an ammonite, a concept that starts with the paving of the piazza and is reflected in floor coverings and ceilings, making an unusual interior shape.

The giant lugworm burrow is a must for small visitors. Children can climb through it while a female lugworm tells them about her life in the mud.

They can spot the shrimps in tanks with a sliding magnifying glass or flat fish by moving a spotlight. Or children can get a bird's-eye view by peering through the back of a curlew's giant-sized head and discover that birds can see sideways - useful when predators are around. On the "feelie" wall, they can stroke bird's heads and identify them from pictures.

On the child-height hexagonals, they can stroke a "seabed" to discover flat fish and cockles. They can touch and identify birds, by handling the smooth shapes of life-size cormorant, gull, and tern.

Bird footprints, shellfish siphon holes and worm trails are modelled under transparent domes illuminated by push-button lights. Questions like "What do lugworms eat?" and "Why does this flounder's mouth open sideways?" provide a challenge to find out more.

Light sensors detecting your approach raise a giggle with the sound of a foot squelching in mud. A computer offers information about how the estuary water is kept clean and buttons can be pressed to highlight a display about the ships that pass here.

A breath-taking panorama of the estuary can be seen from the second-floor observatory. These waters are heavily used shipping lanes and visitors can use telescopes to zoom in on the maritime traffic as well as the varied bird life on the dunes.

Groups can also explore the lake side, dunes and shoreline, guided by environmental education staff. This costs Pounds 20 per group and includes identifying birds, their food, nests, habitat, discovering shells and seaweeds.

The centre is particularly attractive to key stage 2 children as part of the national curriculum on science, geography and environmental education, but its appeal ranges from KS1 to higher education.

Entry fee is 90p per child in school groups. Free entry for one adult per 10 children.

For bookings, contact: Discovery Centre, Lakeside, Cleethorpes DN35 0AG. Tel: 01472 323232

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