Thursday, 12 July 2012

Go-Go Voluntary Wardens!

This month's competition: Guess whose chest this is.
It has become a bit of a cliche because I keep repeating it; but the outstanding feature of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve is the support we get from our community, especially our many volunteers.

I've been writing up our figures for the first three months of the financial year and I note with pride that our Voluntary Wardens put in 60 man/days in June alone; and that's not exceptional for Paxton. But where else could you find a nature reserve with a visitors' centre that is open year-round, almost every day except Christmas, and manned entirely by volunteers? I've no idea.

Since April 1st this year, we have had over 10340 visitors in the centre, despite the rain. And it's not just that we are open to serve teas to them; they get a big welcome and all the information they need to get the best out of their visit. (It's called visitor enhancement in the trade which makes me think of a beauty salon!) 'No wonder then that people tell me that this is the friendliest reserve they visit. Here's a couple of examples:

A bird watcher from Lancashire comes here only once a year to see our nightingales, garden warblers and turtle doves, yet we always recognise him and welcome him back and he remembers the names of our midweek wardens too. There are others from Scotland, London and the West Midlands who say the same. If you looked through our group bookings, you would also see that the same clubs and societies (54 groups brought over 1000 people) come every year because of the welcome they get from us.  Finally there is a school for children with disabilities and behavioural problems that visits us every Thursday from Cambridge. They can be a bit disruptive, but it's amazing how much more sociable and socialised the children have become through repeated visits in relaxed surroundings. When I asked them why they come here rather than a nearer country park or reserve, the teacher told me that this is the only place that they feel genuinely welcome.

The Voluntary Wardens are usually the only "staff" that a visitor sees, so they can rightly take the credit for our reputation as an exceptionally visitor-friendly reserve. They serve drinks and snacks without poisoning the public and, very importantly, they are the people who bring in "the dosh" which keeps us going.

There is one other job that I have to mention, and that's recruitment; Trevor Gunton would kill me if I didn't. The chance to talk with visitors face-to-face is too good an opportunity to waste on niceties like the weather and "Do you take sugar?" Voluntary Wardens recruit members for the Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve because there is no more effective method: it really works. It's also the best way to recruit more Voluntary Wardens.

I just can't exaggerate how much the District Council, the staff and the Friends value this front-line job or how grateful we are to those of you who do it. I'm sorry we have to keep asking you to fill vacant sessions, but we hope to recruit a few more people to cover the busy summer week-ends, if we get any!