One of the best known attractions in Skegness – Natureland Seal Sanctuary – is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
The man who started its renowned seal rescue work, John Yeadon, now 82, will be there with his wife, Margaret, on a special Sunday Funday on June 28, along with their sons, Duncan, 55, and Richard, 53, who run the centre.
In 1965, John turned his hobby of keeping tropical fish into his career by becoming head aquarist at Natureland, which was officially opened later that year by Princess Margaret.
At that time Natureland was not much more than an aquarium, floral palace and tropical house with a small, shed-like gift shop.
It was run by a Manchester investment company and the local council but, after the first year, the company pulled out and it was left to John and the staff to soldier on.
Natureland’s most celebrated work – rescuing seals – began by accident.
Richard said: “Natureland had only been open a short while when an orphaned baby seal arrived at the entrance under someone’s arm and they asked ‘can you do something with this?’.”
Natureland staff gathered up all the information they could about rearing seals – which was very limited at that time – and it was a case of trial and error initially with both disheartening results and moderate successes.
In the end Natureland’s method had better success rates than anyone else’s and John was asked to write a paper for the International Zoo Yearbook and the method he described is now used around the world.
Natureland has also gained popular acclaim not just through word of mouth from its many visitors but also through TV appearances.
John Yeadon appeared on BBC 1’s popular children’s programme, Blue Peter, in 1966/7 and Natureland also hosted a visit from the show’s action-man presenter John Noakes.
Following Natureland’s pioneering work with orphaned seals, the seal hospital was born and has turned Natureland into the success it is today.
Between 30 and 50 baby seals are rescued along the county’s coastline every year and more than 700 have been successfully nurtured and returned to the sea.
Although Natureland has an international reputation for its seal rescue work, visitors can now see a diverse collection of animals at its seafront home.
Duncan Yeadon said: “A day out at Natureland will allow you to experience a range of animals with our different exhibits, such as the aquarium, which houses unusual species such as seahorses and clownfish, the Floral Palace, home to tropical birds, butterflies and beautiful plants, and the Tropical House where insects and reptiles such as tarantulas and crocodiles are kept.
“Children can enjoy feeding the animals in Pets’ Corner, which include the sheep, goats, rabbits and guinea pigs as well as the koi carp. The quirks and antics of the meerkats will amuse any onlooker. The penguins are always a big hit and are loved by our visitors just as much as our seals.
“The newest members to the Natureland family are our alpacas Lucky, Apollo and Endeavour and are proving to be very popular.”
Today Natureland remains a family-run attraction and doesn’t get outside funding from the council, the Lottery or anywhere else.
The centre relies on its visitors and the very generous donations from the public using its Friends of the Seal Hospital scheme.
Public donations have kept Natureland going – and growing – over the years and the Fun Day will give staff the chance to thank the many visitors and also raise a little extra cash for the rescued baby seals.