Well well well....... back in the mists of the last Century I began my conservation-cum-wildlife career. In those days I was here there and everywhere in Durham and Northumberland learning my craft. But by 1990, as a lot of my work was voluntary, I'd realised I needed to get a degree to move on, and get paid for doing a job I love.
L-R John Middlemiss (Head warden), Dave Edwards (Warden), Damian Rana (Warden), Me (Volunteer), Julie Rana (wife of Damian and wardened at weekends)
Sorting out the office tonight I came across this photo. Not that I'd lost it, just I didn't know where it was these days. This photograph was my last day as "official" voluntary warden at Cragside in Northumberland, hence why we're all standing like lemons in front of a sign I'd quickly written at the end of the day. I was at Cragside last week and mentioned this photograph to Julie, strange then to see it again so soon after that conversation. Strange too to see the ramshackled uniforms. These were the days before corporate identity came to the fore. We just wore whatever we worked in.
I began there in 1986 and clocked up over 1500 hours of voluntary wardening experience there in the 4 years before this photograph was taken. Not a bad achievement considering I had a full time job too. I was also working as co-ordinator for the North Northumberland Otter Project, conducting various surveys for NGO's as well as Nature Conservancy, working for and on behalf of the National Trust's Northumbrian HQ of anything which needed doing in the Durham area, as at that time there was no NT staff down there, such as NT rep on members groups, involved with the Neptune 500 project, and heavily involved during for the hand over of Souter Lighthouse from Trinity House to the National Trust.
This latter work was fascinating as I was invited into the lighthouse by Trinity House 2 weeks before it was handed over and shown round to make notes for the National Trust's land agent, prior to being myself the NT rep on site after handover. What was lovely was that the keepers lit the lamp for me and I was allowed into the lamp room while the huge lens floated past me on a mercury bath. Something the public were banned from doing. But as I was representing the new owners, it was an absolute privilege to be in a lighthouse in those days when still an operational building run by 2 keepers. An experience no one will ever be able to get again now that lighthouses are unmanned and fully automated.
Although I kept going back to Cragside as a volunteer warden on an ad-hoc basis until 1994, it was never the same. So this photo marks both the end and the beginning of an era. It was the end of my time at Cragside, but six weeks later I started my Countryside Management degree at Newcastle. Graduating from there in 1993, I applied for and got a job with the BBC's Natural History Unit in Bristol, moved south and 18 years this November, I'm still there making wildlife programmes on the radio.
But seeing this photo brings it all back to me, that excitement of developing a career in wildlife conservation in my early twenties. If I had my time all over again, I'd do exactly the same. But where did I have the energy to do all of that work and have a full time job.....and where has the time gone!!
Great Days, great days indeed.