Sir David Attenborough paid tribute to the hard work of the county’s volunteers as he opened a new training centre at Rutland Water.
The broadcaster and naturalist told a crowd of volunteers and guests that there was “something special” about Rutlanders at the £1.1m Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust centre on Tuesday.
Sir David, who grew up in nearby Leicestershire, said: “I lived here long enough to remember the time when there were people who wanted to wipe the name of Rutland off the map, believe it or not.
“But it was finally reclaimed because of the complaints and the agitation of the people who live around here.
“You are a remarkable lot and I have no doubt at all that it is your efforts that have led to this wonderful facility.
“It is a joy to be here. I congratulate you all on what you’ve done to bring this about.”
Sir David quoted the poem Leisure by William Henry Davis as an example of a verse that “could not be less appropriate” for Rutlanders. He said the lines: “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare,” before adding: “You don’t sit and stare; you do something.
“That’s what’s so astonishing about you lot. That is why this has come into existence and why this has now become a great centre of people who love birds and people who love the countryside, coming from all over Britain and all over the world.”
Sir David was taken on a tour of the building by Rutland Water Nature Reserve manager Tim Appleton before cutting the ribbon alongside volunteers to official open the centre.
He said: “It’s a splendid building with lots of facilities. It’s very appropriate to this place, which is very important, ornithologically. People come here from all over the world for Birdfair.”
Sir David spoke to several trust volunteers, including David Duckett and Alan Kitcheman, both retired, who were building a dry stone wall, and youngsters including 17-year-old Abi Mustard, who helped plant the garden outside the centre.
Sir David said age was no barrier to conservation.
“The emphasis is always on young people but in fact it’s people of all ages; people who are middle aged and old fogeys like me.
“The people who are building those walls are people who are newly retired and finding great pleasure and delight in doing this which is so connective, so sympathetic and so enriching.”
The volunteer centre, built on the Hambleton peninsula just past Egleton, was funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund with further contributions from Anglian Water, charitable trusts and a public appeal.
The building has been designed to sit comfortably and sympathetically in its natural setting within the reserve.
It incorporates important features to minimise its environmental impact including locally-sourced construction materials, maximum use of natural light and a high level of insulation and low energy fittings.
It also features a living sedum roof and gabions filled with local stone, which will insulate the building and provide a rich variety of wildlife micro-habitats.