Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A band of brothers.


I was now an RSPB Warden!

Of course I wasn't a proper warden. For a start, I couldn't grow a decent beard, and then I wasn't really very good at practical work either, though I could "talk-the-talk".  Fortunately I had my volunteers to show me the ropes and a succession of summer wardens to back me up. Anyway, the raison d'etre for Vane Farm was environmental education and I did know a few things about that.

My competence as a warden was soon challenged when I had a call from the local Forestry Commission Officer who was a Geordie who didn't mince his words.  He managed the woods above Blair Adam in the Cleish Hills and he had caught someone trapping finches for the cagebird trade. We rendezvoused in a car park and he asked me if this was an illegal activity and what the law was on finch trapping. I said that I didn't know, and he said "Well you bluwddie well should do, shouldn't you?" Needless to say, the next time I was involved in a finch trapping incident, I bluwddie well did know!

After a season of settling in, I was invited to my first RSPB wardens' conference. This was a big deal for me. Would they find me out? Could I fit in? My only insight into what the other wardens were up to came via a monthly newsletter from the Lodge where each of us had half a page to vent our spleen. I loved reading between the lines as it slowly became clear that not everyone was happy to have landed where they were or with whom.

There was a warden on Loch Lomond-side who always started his news with the weather, which was always terrible. He was convinced that of all the wardens, his weather was the worst and it probably was. Apart from the constant rain, there was the midges, the wild goats and the inconsiderate tourists. One unlucky couple invited his anger because they lost control of their speedboat and crashed ashore on the reserve, ending up in the woods and causing damage to several trees. He never mentioned if they survived or if the boat was salvaged.  I imagined them crawling away, bloodsoaked and with broken limbs, then swimming back across the loch to be hospitalised. I bet they never considered joining the RSPB after that.

That year, the conference (which was rather too grand a description for less than twenty guys snoring in bunk-beds) was held at the Graffham Outdoor Pursuits Center, not far from the Lodge at Sandy. Unbeknown to me, this meeting marked the end of an era because the man in charge of all the reserves was retiring. He had recruited all of the other wardens, except me. John Crudas was the Reserves Department. He micromanaged the whole show, but I'd never heard of him and sadly never got to know him.

Hanna and I drove down from Scotland taking the minor roads through the East Midlands rather than the Great North Road. This made us late. Apparently this was my first cardinal sin. "You're late" said the two shop-stewards on the door in unison.
"Sorry, have I missed much?"
"Only the chairman's speech!"
"Was it any good?" ...... Silence.
I had committed my second cardinal sin; Lack of Respect.

Hanna was going to drive on down for a reunion with friends in Sussex and pick me up on the way back, but after 400 miles in our old car she needed a loo break so she headed inside.
"Hold on", said one of the tweedy beardies, "No women allowed in here; this is a wardens' conference!"  Hanna pushed past and I didn't quite hear what she said, but it wasn't nice.

I went on to have a great couple of days, mainly because I was made very welcome by the two wardens in the room that I respected the most; John Wilson from Leighton Moss and Jeremy Sorensen from Minsmere; both legends in my world. They showed me how to sit at the back, look interested and put my feet up on the chair in front. It was like being in a warm friendly pub with my third pint in my hand.

I made other friends there too and came away feeling much less isolated. They were a "band of brothers." Even the two shop-stewards were nice to me, and I can't think of any way that I had earned their friendship.  Just being an RSPB Warden was enough to get me in the club.

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