CNCV: Wybunbury Moss in March

Today I attended my first task of the year with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers. With many other things happening in my life at the moment, it’s been difficult to fit in my usual fortnightly volunteering with the group but today I managed to at least attend for half a day.

After having to do some work this morning, yearning to be outside on what looked like a lovely day, I rushed across to Wybunbury Moss at lunchtime to join in the work. After being there two weeks ago, there was brash to cut and burn while others coppiced woodland on another part of the site.

The view from my desk wasn’t deceiving, it was an almost springlike day. There was as much blue sky as cloud and the sun’s warmth could be felt quite strongly but a keen chilly wind kept the feeling of late winter in the air rather than early spring. As we finished the task in mid-afternoon, a few light showers came along to dampen our enthusiasm. However, just being outside with some lovely sunshine lifted my spirits and blue away the morning work-cobwebs perfectly.

I’ve really missed being with the group over the last few months and hopefully I’ll find a few more gaps to attend over the course of the spring.

An apology to Greenpeace: it all comes down to money!

Recently I’ve had a go at Greenpeace on Twitter for pestering me to give more money per month. After recent news headlines of charities pestering people for money, I felt empowered to make a stand. I give monthly to a number of charities as well as giving quite a lot of my free time to charitable volunteering, so receiving calls from charities (Greenpeace certainly weren’t the first and won’t be the last) trying to guilt-trip me into giving more irked somewhat.

It started with one call, and then another, and another, and another. Over the past 18 months I’ve been plagued by nuisance calls by ‘companies’ trying to get me to make false claims for compensation as a result of the extremely minor and short-lived discomfort I suffered after a road accident last year. I have resorted to disconnecting my landline phone and not answering any mobile calls from a number I don’t recognise just to stop the endless harassment of these ambulance-chasers. These insurance scam companies don’t often use the same telephone number, they seem to be able to channel their calls through numbers all around the country, so when I started to receive multiple missed calls from the same number, I eventually called it back. When I did, I heard a recorded message saying it was a company working on behalf of Greenpeace and that they would be in touch again shortly. After a few more missed calls, I finally had my mobile on me when it rang from the same number and I spoke to a representative of Greenpeace. The nicely spoken young chap wanted to tell me about all the good things that Greenpeace had done recently; I instantly knew where this was going, eventually it would lead to a request for more money. At that time I was already giving more money per month to Greenpeace than any other individual charity, so I didn’t want to give any more. I said to the chap that I didn’t have time to talk and I politely ended the call. Over the following few days, I received more and more calls from the same number until I’d finally had enough. Not only was I being harassed by scam insurance companies, I was now being pestered by the charity I gave more money to per month than any other! (this is an apology, honest! Just keep on reading!).

I posted a tweet and got a tweeted apology from Greenpeace and I then sent an e-mail complaining about their behaviour and I cancelled my direct debit. I thought the only way that charities will learn will be for people affected by this behaviour to make some noise as well as stopping donations. I quite quickly got a nice e-mail in return again apologising, promising I would receive no more contact from them but saying that they hoped I would return to them sometime – ‘not I chance’ I thought! My mind was even more firmly made up when later that day I received a text from Greenpeace asking me to increase my donation to them by £10 per month. That was the last straw and I tweeted my annoyance again.

The issue of being pestered with calls from charities, which has been in the news quite a lot over the past few months, is, for me, coupled with a feeling that charities don’t always treat their staff and volunteers in the way they should. I should say here that I’m not pointing the finger at Greenpeace at all – I have no particular knowledge of their staff or volunteers’ conditions; this is a general rather than specific observation. For some time I have thought that some charities use those who want to work in their particular areas or ‘industries’, for want of a better word, by squeezing as much out of them as they can for as little investment as possible to a point where it gets close to, if not actually, exploitation. There are many charities, especially those working in areas where there is a great demand for jobs, which offer unpaid work, long term volunteering posts or internships, leaving those who want to get a foothold in those areas work without an income for months and in some cases many years.

However, these are blinkered, short-sighted views, of both the telephone calls and the employment of staff and volunteers, from a position of being comfortably off and already well into the career I set out to build. When the interests that environmental charities, for example, are up against can throw money at more frivolous activities such as the arts and sport (I’m not having a go at the hard work and dedication of sports men and women, just the elitist hangers-on) it just shows the difference in financial clout.

The hard truth is that the interests that cause the greatest damage to the earth and its environment are those with the most money. Oil companies, agri-chemical businesses, land owners or, indeed, whole groups or classes of people who have enough money and low enough scruples not to care what damage their desires have, all have huge vested interests against which environmental charities are struggling to have an impact. To be able to fight for their causes, charities rely on the contributions both in the form of money and time from the general public, and they have to account for every last penny and make the best of every hour. Few charities have products they can sell to generate millions or billions of pounds of revenue; they can only persuade the public to support them as much as they can. When those major industrial and landowning interests have such huge resources, and regularly don’t play clean, it’s no wonder that charities have to resort to sometimes less than comfortable practices to even vaguely compete.

The phone calls and the treatment of those who work and volunteer for charities is, for me, coupled with an increasing corporatisation of large charities. It’s not the local, individual charity staff who decide to make those calls, and they do not decide to squeeze budgets to such an extent that they have to turn paid jobs into voluntary posts; they have to deal with the day-to-day, the coal face, the delivery of the overall charity’s aims. It is, rather, the head offices of large charities that make those decisions, head offices in many cases staffed to a significant degree by people from the corporate world not the charitable one, people who have less interest in the charitable concerns and more thought on general finance and resources, as well that their own promotion and self-development. However, big charities need to have a corporate approach to enable them to combat the actions of the big corporates, but this can go too far. I get the general feeling that large charities, in trying to do their best for their primary goals, are actually moving away from what matters most; engaging on a human scale with those whose support they desperately need.

The sometimes hard actions of charities, whether it be nuisance phone calls or treatment of staff, do deserve inspection and frustration is at times understandable. However, these issues pale into insignificance when compared to the damage caused by the organisations and groups they are facing up to. It is right that charities have to account for the money they receive and spend, it’s the public’s money afterall, and they need to treat their staff and volunteers correctly. However, by fighting against them on these issues, we’re only making it more difficult for charities to succeed and hoping for them to succeed is why people give their money and time to them in the first place. Charities try to be whiter-than-white but this is a real struggle when they have to make the most of their resources and their opponents have enough money to liberally spray-paint their operations with white or, indeed, green-wash.

Time to give charities a break, give more money to support their campaigns, give more voluntary time in the hope they can provide more paid jobs and give them some leeway when they get it a bit wrong.

Sorry, Greenpeace!

A Day with the Ospreys

Trundling down a woodland track, past the stone cottage and old barn, I splash through rainfall streams crossing the path. Winding round the rocky hillside, a wren flits across the way in the darkness under the enclosing trees. Emerging from cover, the landscape opens up from the old moss-covered oaks into wide damp pastureland bounded by water channels and stone walls. Across the river and the sheep fields, sits a tumbledown building, long past its best and beyond use. In the quietness of its surroundings, silence broken only by the low bleating of sheep and the occasional steam train whistle, it stands alone. Within a neighbouring copse, high up in a fir tree, watched over by Snowdon, is a large, jumbled collection of branches, twigs and turf – a cradle for a precious clutch of Welsh osprey eggs.

ImageThe nest isn’t only watched over by the mountain; it also stays observed by a dedicated group of volunteers putting in hours and days to ensure that no one disturbs the birds or steals their eggs. The rarity of these eggs is what makes them so valuable to collectors. A display of Welsh osprey eggs would enhance any collection, but this would not require the theft of one clutch but two. For whatever reason, egg thieves must have five eggs to display, and at up to three eggs a clutch, it takes two nests to fulfil this requirement. However, the value of these eggs is even greater to those who give their time to protect them and there is a growing band of people willing to put up with rain, cold and discomfort to prevent any attempts to take the clutch.

On Saturday morning I got up at 6:30am to travel to the Glaslyn Osprey protection site near Porthmadog, north Wales. It takes just over two hours to get there from home driving via a choice of scenic roads across the hills and moors or via the fast coast route. My first shift of the year started at 10:00am and as I settled down for a long eight-hour guard duty, tinkering with the new camera equipment, the female started to shuffle on the nest. As she stood up and stepped to one side, there beneath her was the first white and speckled egg of the year, her thirtieth and hopefully one of three to come. As the first to see the egg, I let Elfyn, the organiser of volunteers, know what I had seen, and within a few minutes the news was out. Quite a start to the shift!


With the rain coming down from the start, the caravan with the monitoring equipment (Osprey Protection Spy Cave) seemed the best place to stay but eventually I went out to the forward hide, where the volunteers get closer to the nest and have a chance of better views. The hide gives a clear sight of the nest and tree and any one approaching them would be seen easily, even at night.

The quietness and natural beauty of the valley is one of the bonuses of volunteering there. While the rain, wind and cold can make it an uncomfortable existence for a few hours, we are rewarded with views across Snowdonia and the sights and sounds of wildlife, both birds and mammals.

After my shift I checked-in at a local hotel and then decided to really get into the Osprey way of living and try some water from the Glaslyn Valley and Porthmadog fish for my tea (pictured below!)

 7  8


The power of volunteers

I have a few large posts in the offing but I just wanted to highlight two great examples of volunteering and what can be achieved by many people putting contributing a little (and in some cases not so little) of their time.

Late last year, the British Trust for Ornithology, Birdwatch Ireland and the Scottish Ornithologist Club released the 2007-2011 Bird Atlas.  This is an amazing book that details the breeding and wintering ranges of all bird species in the British Isles and not only is it a scientific marvel, it is a lovely ‘coffee table book’ too (if fact it’s almost as big as a coffee table!).  The book importantly also highlights how bird populations have changed over the past few decades and, in many cases, is quite a depressing read.  However, it’s an extremely helpful aid to the work of conservation organisations and fascinating for those of us who like wildlife, statistics and maps!

The most startling thing about it, is that 40,000 people helped to create it by collecting bird survey data and they’re all named in the back – it’s just a pity my name’s not in there and it will be many years until the next one comes out.

ImageThe other great example of volunteering is one that is much better known – the Big Garden Birdwatch. The results of the 2014 survey came out today and again it makes for interesting reading.  Nearly half a million people took part in the survey (sadly down from last year) and 7.27million birds were counted.  The annual survey has now been going for 36 years and data collected over that period can provide very good insights into the state of Britain’s birds.

You can find out more on the Bird Atlas and the Bid Garden Birdwatch at the following locations: