Monday, 31 December 2012

Are we there yet?

Volunteers in our yard.
How would we manage without them?
2012 was quite a year. In fact, there was so much going on, I've had to look back through my blogs to find out what we did. At least they are good for something!

I haven't actually sorted it all out yet. Recent events tend to dominate the mind and make it hard to make a decent evaluation of the year as whole, but I'll have to do it because I'm going to St Ives to give a talk about it next week. Then there will be the Friends AGM to report to as well.

The national papers are all full the Jubilee, Olympics and the Paralympics as being the year's highlights. I agree with all that; all the rest of the news is pretty glum. But what about my year and what about Paxton Pits?

New bird-watching platform under construction.
This was the year I went part-time. I now put in 3 days a week which means I can be home when I'm needed. It's been the right thing for me, but it's actually impossible for a disorganised man like me to do my job in three days, so I have to take a catch-up day every other week. Even then, it's not been ideal for my colleagues, particularly when we have lost Matt Johnson as a full-time ranger.

My morale got quite a boost from winning the 2012 BBC Wildlife Magazine Nature Writer of the Year award and I'm looking forward to taking my prize in July when I should be going to Arctic Norway to study sperm whales. We decided that Costa Rica was too far so went for Norway instead, but it turns out that it takes two days to get to where I'm going; even by plane.

Winter scene.
I had another boost in December when I learned that the endemic Ascension Island Frigate Birds have re-colonised the main island for the first time in 150 years. This is as the result of a project that I managed  for the RSPB, just before coming to Paxton. We eradicated all the feral cats enabling seabirds to return to the island. Masked boobies returned immediately, but it has taken 10 years for our real target species to succeed. There aren't many conservation success stories out there, so it's great to have taken a role in this one, which was quite controversial at the time.

Recently we have got weaving on some new projects to improve accessibility and give better views to the public on the Heronry Trail. These include a new screen at post 17 and a new birdwatching platform at the mound. A dragonfly watching platform has been ordered for the new pond, which has been adapted to hold more water. So there's lots of good news.

The Hayling Pit, frozen.
Over Christmas, someone cut their way through the padlock at the main gate, drove up to our yard and stole a trailer that they filled with fencing materials. It's something we have been dreading since the quarry closed and the Lafarge Site was cleared. Now that all the scrap metal over there has been stolen, I guessed they might head for us. I also wonder if the police clamp-down on scrap-metal dealers has driven our van-driving friends to look for other things to steal?

Anyway, lets put 2012 behind us for now and look forward to New Years Day. We have a great event for visitors and the weather forecast is quite good. I'm hoping to prize loads of money out of our visitors by asking them to give me 10p for every bird species I show them. We could see 50, but 30 would be good.