As any bird will tell you, there are always mixed feelings when your babies leave the nest. When you have spent so much time looking after them, it can be hard to let them fly off on their own and establish a new territory, but it's also a time for celebration. And so it was that I headed off to Pigneys Wood recently with both a heavy heart and a spring in my step, as I was due to say goodbye and farewell to a dedicated bunch of conservation volunteers that I had been working with for over two years. The project had been funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and it was my job to start from scratch, recruiting people and somehow moulding them into a team of volunteers prepared to step in anywhere near North Walsham wherever wildlife needed help: superheroes if you like, but unfortunately for health and safety reasons capes (and flying) were not allowed. I always knew that when the funding period ended, my inexperienced nestlings would have to make their own way in the world, so I trained them as best I could in looking after a range of habitats, and organising their own activities.
So up the hill I trudged this March, a bag full of display boards covered in pictures of them in action slung over one shoulder, and a carefully decorated cake balanced in the other hand, to what I think is the third best view in Norfolk (only Cley visitor centre
and the How Hill dining room beat it for me, but then maybe I'm biased) overlooking the meadows and woods, and the old canal and old railway line that border the site. There's something about this place that lends itself to special occasions – a few months back we met local MP Norman Lamb here at the same time as an award judging panel from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (we won
It's certainly a good spot to contemplate both the past and the future. Since January 2018 the group has been working at NWT Pigneys Wood on restoring ponds, coppicing the hazel woodland, raking up the grassy meadows for wildflowers, improving the path surfaces, painting the picnic benches... they really are a versatile bunch. But they also range over the surrounding countryside, taking a living landscape approach – using results from the surveys arising from NWT's County Wildlife Action project, they were able to choose areas to work in old railway cuttings at Felmingham and Knapton, cutting back bramble to save the scarce small-flowered catchfly and many other wildflowers - have a walk along the Weavers Way and Paston Way trails in June and you'll see them!
So after just a little speech – I'd gathered together a few quotes from people in praise of their work – I handed over a ceremonial golden spade of power (I told you they were superheroes) and went on my way, safe in the knowledge that they would be continuing with their good work without me. For them, the next big project is restoring Bryant's Heath SSSI to its former glory, and as for me... I wonder where I can find another clutch to raise?
Mark Webster, Project Officer