View From a Volunteer - story by Ron Baker
Ron Baker writes about his experience of volunteering with the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB:
I have always walked! Since from a very young age I walked with parents into the countryside, via bus; as a member of 1st Ipswich BB we did camps, expeditions, hikes, orienteering competitions mostly around the Suffolk countryside but also across the UK. I continued, for many years, walking and exploring along the coast, rivers, forests and trails and being generally interested in doing this, something which I continue to enjoy.
When I first saw the advert for Coastal Wardens with Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB I realised I could both walk and be of some use in monitoring the footpaths throughout this beautiful and often undiscovered area. I took the opportunity, after seeing it advertised a second time, and volunteered to attend a one day training course, which I did at Melton. I have not regretted this since as it has enhanced and increased my time out within the AONB, educated me into its range and content and allowed me some influence in recording what is happening. I have been doing this for six years and since then have walked along all the coast area, Cattawade to Kessingland, all the rivers including ‘other side’ of Stour, discovering and rediscovering areas which I thought I knew and filling in reports and taking photographs. I have estimated that I have walked some 400 miles plus in total, completed some 80 plus reports.
Complementing this has been the many and various, monthly regular work parties which have taken me into areas which I could only view from afar, if I knew they were there at all. I have developed and learnt new skills and applied better some of the skills I already had and working with great colleagues and countryside officers at same time. In one area, at Butley, with task of clearing talus to reveal red crag I learnt from the experts about fascinating history, an added value in being part of the warden scheme, I realised that I had camped on that spot with BB friends some 50 years ago. I was able to produce photographs which I took at the time, in black and white, naturally, showing the background of the red crag as it was then with sand martin nests, long since gone.
I have undertaken way-marking across several parts of the AONB which I greatly enjoy. For instance at Butley Low Corner in re-erecting a post which lay hidden in the grass and when I was admiring this two walkers emerged to be redirected, on their way to Thorpeness, especially as they had left the map at home and also further along cutting back vegetation around a post embedded in a bush, it helped the Tesco van to turn around to the right direction. You can feel satisfied with efforts undertaken in this respect. You can work on your own or with a team, making new friends of course.
I have worked on various tasks at Stanney Farm, clearing bracken and shrubs to aid bird areas, removing covers from newly planted bushes, planting shrubs and trees, lopping overgrown bushes. Great thing about this is they always are the greatest hosts providing drinks and soup-now that’s volunteering excellence. You also get knowledge about current projects being done on farm. I have monitored birds, dogs and bait areas, hot air balloons/lanterns, collected bags of rubbish for disposal, cut gorse for regeneration of heath, made faggots for river defence, cut reeds, erected fencing for deer and replacing wild life pond fencing and for little terns (one in sand blizzard at Covehithe which lasted all day), cutting, raking grass watching the many voles, all using range of equipment supplied. Hardest task, literally, was cutting down stands of hazel. It can be hard work and we do work to satisfaction. My bird recognition has been greatly enhanced as colleagues help with this and sharing of views. I aim to go out at least once if not twice a month on Wardens duties and also link in with Work Party programme and with Beach Watch. I have also had opportunity to attend various courses and forums depicting the wide range of work going on in the AONB.
In the background of full support and friendly countryside officers and working with other AONB volunteers including, those from SWT, RSPB, National Trust, Natural England, and in producing follow up reports shows the value in monitoring and the importance of bringing issues to attention.
Glad I took the opportunity to become a volunteer Coast and Estuary Warden. I would have continued walking but this gives greater purpose to doing so and making a difference in this special place with background of sea, sand, sky, isolation in the magical AONB and I would encourage others to join us.
Ron Baker, 24 August 2016