Well, after almost three months of near drought conditions the weather finally broke here on Sheppey and since yesterday afternoon we have currently had around 20 hours of near non-stop rain, often quite heavy and prolonged. This morning it is cold, windy and very wet everywhere and it looks very un-summery outside and a visit to the reserve and a soaking, will not be taken today.
Whilst sitting here this morning, staring out of the study window and unable to even see the sea just half a mile or so away through the gloom and the rain, I mused on the fact that I am now in my 25th year as a Voluntary Warden at The Swale NNR, a quarter of a century makes it sound even longer! Looking at my acceptance letter from the Nature Conservancy Council, as Natural England then was, it appears I started the role in February 1987, although the other Volunteer still active there, Rod Smith, started well before me. But how did I come to be a Volunteer, well like many a good idea, it started as a result of Friday and Saturday night drinking sessions.
By around 1985/6 my twenty odd year association with Elmley was coming to an end. I have explained in previous postings how I worked through Elmley with the Kent River Authority in the 1960's and then spent many years rabbiting and eel netting there before and after befriending the first RSPB manager there, Peter Makepeace. However after he had left for Dungeness, the following year became difficult as the new manager became increasingly disenchanted with both our friendship and interests and so it became necessary to move on. That left me floundering around for a year or so, with no real freedom anywhere else to wander about with my dog as I had done at Elmley and for a while I was reduced to wandering along the seawalls at Shellness and Harty, although during the summer months I did get permission to walk the length of Capel Fleet towards Windmill Creek.
Now during this year or so in the wilderness so to speak, it was the habit of myself and some friends on Friday and Saturday nights to drink in Eastchurch village. However by mid-1986 many of the regulars from the village became noticeably absent, and it appeared that they had begun to transfer their custom to the Ferry House Inn at Harty. Two youngish couples and a single guy had taken over the pub and had begun to attract a lot of trade with their easy going attitude, it also transpired that the single guy was what would now be called a twitcher. So I began going down there myself, or with my wife at the time, and it what a time we would have at weekends. As is often the case, all us locals formed a large back bar clique that thanks to the pub's remoteness, were able to drink well into the early hours of the morning. The locals consisted of Eastchurch regulars, farm hands, a farm manager, some regular birdwatchers and a few others including one who turned out to be the manager of the nearby Swale NNR. We became quite adept at negotiating the twists and turns of the Harty Road in a car while less than sober and accidents were surprisingly rare, although ice and snow did see the odd car end up in the ditch. Not surprisingly, snow, rather than the threat of the poilce, was the quickest way to clear the pub of custom. It only took somebody to walk in and say "its just started snowing" and the thought of getting stuck along the Harty Road would cause a mass exodus.
What made the following year or so more special was the fact that at regular intervals, especially in the summer, the landlords would throw a free after hours buffet or BBQ party. These were great events, with only the after hours clique invited, and from closing time onwards we served ourselves with beer and left the money on the counter while the landlords got stuck into the party. Great weekend nights, especially on hot summer nights BBQ-ing outside on the terrace till the early hours. Very happy days in great company.
Anyway, one Sunday morning in late 1986 I was walking the dog along the Shellness track as normal, doing a bit of birdwatching, when the manager of The Swale NNR, Phil Holmes drove past. He stopped and after we'd spent some time discussing the previous night's escapades in the Ferry House Inn he suddenly said to me have you thought of becoming a Volunteer Warden on the reserve as you like being out all the time with your dog. I asked what it entailed and he said basically, the opportunity to do your own thing wandering around the reserve when you like and keeping an eye on it and recording and supplying me with, everything that you see.
A great offer which I was over the moon to accept and so by Feb 1987 I was accepted by the NCC and given a Volunteer's authorisation card and a key to the access gates and joined four or five other Volunteers at the time, all doing our various bits for the reserve. We sometimes had Volunteer's days out to other reserves, often had monthly meetings at the manager's house and still enjoyed a good party at the pub at weekends.
The NCC in those days was an organisation with real national environmental clout and budgets and in Phil Holmes had an excellent manager who maintained a really good reserve. Why, in those days, they even supplied the manager with a company house until he decided to buy his own. Sadly, successive governments diluted the power of the NCC, whilst re-naming it, to leave the under-staffed and un-budgeted sorry state that is Natural England today.
I found one of the original reserve leaflets in my file and the front page is shown below, hopefully it will enlarge OK.