Thursday, 26 June 2014

25 years at Paxton Pits

On Friday we will celebrate the 25th birthday of the Reserve.
This will be my speech.

On behalf of all the Rangers, past and present, at Huntingdonshire District Council, welcome to Paxton Pits Nature Reserve. 
When I hear that word, Ranger, I think of Yogi Bear and pick-a-nick baskets. Those American park rangers still look like they are a branch of the military, and that is no accident. When Yellowstone Park was created, it was the first National Park in the world and they had no organisation to run it, so when the local tribe started robbing the tourists, they brought in the cavalry. The name Ranger probably came from the UK where we had game rangers in the Royal forests. The job was law-enforcement. Our Rangers have a much broader remit and I’m proud to say that I have cleaned the toilets, met Bill Oddie and shaken Prince Charles’ hand, all in the same hour. (I did wash my hands). Our uniform reflects that and we look like we work in a Garden Centre! (They copied us!) 
The man behind that image was Pat Knight, who built up the service from a one man show to what it is now. It is good to see some of our rangers that have moved on; Roland Fletcher (every Mum’s favourite Ranger) and Matt Johnson our cowboy ranger.
Now, you have been invited here because of the support you have given us in the past, or because we thought a nice lunch might buy us a few favours in the future! I see that we have representatives from HDC (huge applause), The Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, the local community, neighbouring landowners, the quarry, the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and lots of old colleagues and volunteers.  Welcome all of you.
This is a Birthday Party so, although I will touch on some serious issues, I plan to keep it light. 
I took over the post of Senior Ranger from Ron Elloway here in 2003 when 5 Rangers lived in a cupboard and all the tools we had would fit in the boot of a car. We have come a long way since then and yet, after 25 years, we are only just beginning to explore the possibilities and potential of the site.
Today, the Reserve is nationally famous for its wildlife, especially nightingales, that pull in people from all over the country, but if you were to ask me what makes Paxton different, I always say it is the huge amount of community involvement we have, especially our volunteers who put in over 2000 days of work a year. I need to say a few things about volunteers. Ray Matthews will be telling you about how volunteers actually started up this reserve.
The Rangers are currently looking at reorganising our department and how we manage volunteers. We are trying to achieve more every year, to serve more customers and meet their high expectations, while at the same time reducing our staff and cutting costs. Today "A loo, a view and a brew" is no longer seen as enough.
We get a lot of praise for the way our voluntary wardens meet and greet the public. And we are pressing on with providing better paths, seats and hides for visitors. We are going to try and recruit and train more volunteers to do some of the jobs that Rangers did formerly and The Friends are looking at ways to get younger people onto their committees. It sounds like a really good idea, doesn’t it? 
But you may have seen in the press that the National Trust received some criticism from one of its young volunteers (she is 65) for replacing staff with volunteers who work long shifts, are often elderly and need support. Does that sound familiar to you? 
In the old days, we only manned the visitor centre at weekends and at other times if we could get volunteers. Then Ian Langdon had a heart condition and was stopped from driving lorries. That was a good idea on several counts, but chiefly it meant that Ian started volunteering nearly every day and so we started opening seven days a week. Now we have 2 volunteers on at a time so they can support each other. You can see straight away where we get over 700 man/days of volunteering.  It can be hard work. We actually had a volunteer (Tony) collapse while on duty last week, but I should point out that Ian Langdon had just made him a cup of tea! Actually Tony is back on duty today. (Cheers). Thank God for stomach pumps. Seriously though, Tony, you couldnt have timed it better because you have raised an important point. Running a large number of volunteers is a complicated task and it requires staff time. I would like to thank Ranger Kirsty Drew and now Sophie Walpole for administrating the volunteer system and the voluntary co-ordinators who have been in the front line. (In my time , Jocelyn Gale, Sara Jane and Niki Papworth)
Our outdoor, practical volunteers (look for the guys with great tans and scars) put in a similar amount of time, and they too need staff to moan at. Then there are dozens of people who work behind the scenes such as bird counters, walk leaders, shelf stackers, sign makers, bee keepers and many more. Ray Matthews will tell you about the work of the Friends and all the hours that the Trustees spend on our behalf. I should mention that I think Ray himself puts in more hours a week than I do.

So that’s just a  quick, random scan over our volunteers. I would like to thank all of you, current and past.

The work you put in has four benefits
  • It improves the visitor experience
  • It raises money
  • It improves the site for wildlife
AND (no 4) it should be rewarding for you.

So what about that wildlife?

I have mentioned nightingales, (if you are lucky you might hear one, some of them are still singing). Perhaps even more importantly, you might hear turtle dove. This is a bird that is in serious trouble in the UK. But Paxton Pits is not only a bird reserve, it’s a nature reserve, where you can see all sorts of spectacular insects and flowers. Every year brings something new and the latest arrival came in the form of th Norfolk Hawker dragonfly that now breeds here. We are celebrating National Insect week on Sunday, if you want to come along.

If you prefer your wildlife to be big, wet and hairy, then this is the place to look for an otter. 

So, Dearly Beloved , we are gathered here today (My Mum wanted me to be a vicar), not just to celebrate our successes but also to meet each other and talk about the future. If your discussions come up with any bright ideas, please contact us afterwards.

So, now that I have run out of notes, you will hear from two speakers who will take different (and I hope complimentary)  perspectives on the Reserve. I hope I haven’t stolen any of your lines.
To set the scene from on the spot Professor Ray Matthews will give a brief history of the reserve and the role of all the agencies involved.
Then Cllr Peter Bucknell will give us the District Councils’ wider perspective on the reserve and its role in the community.
I'll come back to get you into the last spasm.