Thursday 17 November 2011

Tomorrow is a Long Time

"Tomorrow is a Long Time" is a Bob Dylan song from the 1960's and one of many favourites of his that I have and it could in some ways describe my spell on The Swale NNR asa Voluntary Warden. I was only 39 when I accepted the offer from the Nature Conservancy Council, as Natural England was called in its early form, to become a Vol. Warden on their Harty reserve. I accepted with a touch of trepidation and wondered what tomorrow would bring, and yet here I am at 64, a quarter of a century later, still hobbling round the reserve - tomorrow really has been a long time!

And yet, I suppose because its always been a part-time thing and for the first twenty years, not an every day thing, it doesn't feel as if twenty five years have sailed by, it's seemed a lot shorter. But it's certainly been a long education in the ways of the countryside and at times, the closest thing to private meditation, as I've spent most of it through choice, in isolation with just my dogs and my thoughts for company.
And when I look back over the countless memories and sights I've experienced throughout that time, I have realised that it has taken me the whole, first twenty-four years, to achieve in my mind the correct balance in order that I can be fully at peace out there. Only during this last year have I been able to accept that the wildfowlers are not the aliens that I've always seen them as, seen the surrounding farmland as a huge contributor to the local wildlife habitat and as a result sort of trebled the size of the reserve, and lastly, accepted that effective pest controls are a vital tool in successful reserve management. There were times when I seemed to be running around the reserve at all hours, and getting stressed out single-handedly trying to retaliate against various shooting factions and farmers in general. But this year Karma has descended over this old curmudgeon, as I was called recently, and so I don't "chase" anymore, although that's possibly because the arthritis in my feet has altered the word to "hobble".

But seriously, to sit on the seawall now, as I've mentioned before, and spend an hour or two swapping gossip and memories with some of the wildfowlers, especially the older ones, is a real delight now. Many of those, like me, have been out and about on those marshes at all hours for around fifty years and there's some great tales to be told of ducks, geese, rabbits, eels, ferrets, terriers and of poaching and farmers. Its took me a long time for me to realise that we do actually have a lot in common, apart from killing ducks that is.
There were times as well for many years, when the sight of birdwatchers advancing along the seawall or going into a hide, would see me going in the opposite direction, because it meant having to talk to people and I preffered to remain as the figure in the distance. But these days I find myself looking forward to a chat with many of them and sometimes guide them across unofficial parts of the reserve, if they don't walk too fast.

And the reserve itself, has that changed over the last twenty-five years. Well the one fundamental thing that hasn't changed, which is a success, is that it still remains the same example of an old piece of grazing marsh, still looking as it probably did a hundred years ago. However, when I started there, there were six viewing hides with a circular route round part of the main reserve. Today there is currently just one hide and no access at all off of the sea wall.

So its been a long learning curve and a privelage to conduct it out there but what will the next tomorrow bring. One thing's for sure, I certainly won't be celebrating any half century as a Vol. Warden out there and it really is one day at a time now, rather than planning for the tomorrow's. Perhaps the next step is as Dylan sings in the title song:
"I can't see my reflections in the waters
I can't speak the sounds that show no pain
I can't hear the echo of my footsteps
Or can't remember the sound of my own name.............


  1. Hello Derek, i am looking to see if you post every day with excitement of what you have seen.

    I find your letters from sherry captivating

    Maybe Derek your the wainwright of Sheppey

  2. Lewis, sometimes they probably read as though I'm writing from inside a bottle of sherry.
    Unfortunately they're not always going to be just about what I see, I try to vary the content otherwise they just become a boring list of birds every day.
    The Wainwright of Sheppey is a nice thought but given that he's dead and I feel it sometimes as I walk round there, I guess not.

    Thanks for your comments.

  3. A very reflective view of the last 25 years Derek. As to whether you make half a century? Who knows "tomorrow is a long time"

  4. Mike, age 89 seems a long way off and pretty unattainable I think. My Jack Russell hopefully has about five years active life left and then that will probably be it for both of us out there. "Restless Farewell" as Dylan sang.