A proud Yorkshirewoman born in Sheffield, my interest in the natural world began at an early age with frequent visits to my maternal grandparents who lived in converted trams in the Derbyshire countryside. Water was fetched from a pipe flowing out of the stream filter-bed across the lane, and the ty bach up the garden was emptied weekly by council bin men. We picked bluebells and other wildflowers in season and learned to recognise birds too using the little Observer’s books.
Primary schooldays were enlivened by nature walks and a nature table in the classroom. I inadvertently brought a pond-dipped leech to add to the tank of tadpoles which it proceeded to suck dry. Even at High School there were hikes led by the geography mistress to study the Derbyshire landscape. I remember my first encounter with early purple orchids in one of the Dales.
Orchids also featured on a trip to Holy Island from Durham University (Hons Chemistry) – dune slacks held sheets of marsh orchids. Also at Durham, I was fortunate to meet my lovely husband, Rob, and John Lawton (now Professor Sir) who later married my room-mate. One winter term John drew our attention to a party of waxwings feeding on berry bushes by the Science labs.
Married to Rob, we set up home in Chesterfield and soon joined the Derbyshire Ornithological Society whose field trips widened our bird knowledge. A wonderful evening class teacher for the WEA (workers educational association) by the name of Philip Shooter (P. Shooter!) introduced us to bird songs and all the little brown jobs which are more easily distinguished by sound.
Moving to Nottinghamshire in the early 1970's, our wildlife education continued with the Trent Valley Birdwatchers and the Nottinghamshire Trust for Nature Conservation. We became volunteer wardens for a disused railway cutting near our home where green-winged orchids and meadow saxifrage thrived. Scrub-bashing entered our repertoire. We were also introduced to the delights of moth-trapping during a session in the reserve. We attended a variety of wildlife-related WEA classes and later I began tutoring courses too.
After joining the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) I took over a Common Birds Census plot and spent ten spring & summer seasons mapping all the birds on a local patch of farmland. There were tree sparrows, corn buntings, turtle doves and yellow wagtails among the regulars – I doubt there are any left now.
In the late 1980's we moved to Wales. We quickly joined CNS and the Glamorgan Wildlife Trust. I also attended several of Mary Gillham’s extra-mural classes so we began to learn about our new natural surroundings. Buzzards & ravens which had been rarities in Notts became familiar birds, and after living in the land-locked Midlands, it was a treat to have the coast on our doorstep.
From 1990-1998 I was Field Meetings Secretary for CNS and organised a wide variety of outings. Including well-attended coach trips and local public walks to attract new members. Far-flung venues included Raglan, Kidwelly & Carew Castles, Tregaron, the Wiltshire Downs, Slimbridge, Westonbirt Arboretum and Middleton Hall – site of the National Botanic Garden while it was being set up (hard hats de rigueur!) There was the occasional hiccup when the coach blew a tyre & we had to wait for the repair.
Waiting for the repair
Over the years, Rob & I have contributed many articles and reports of field meetings. We continue to lead walks from time to time and have regularly given illustrated talks for the indoor programme based on our enthusiasm for photography of wildlife both at home and abroad.
For ten years I succeeded Mary Gillham as part-time tutor for the University Continuing Education Department with courses in Cardiff, Cowbridge & Penarth on various aspects of wildlife. I am delighted that some of my students have continued their interest in the natural world (& joined CNS).
Rob & I continued to contribute to BTO surveys here in South Wales, especially the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)which superseded the Common Bird Census and also the Waterways BBS which we carried out along a stretch of the River Ely. We recently retired from those springtime activities to make way for younger legs but continue to participate in the monthly national Wetland Bird Survey. We have also become involved in collecting wildlife records for SEWBReC (South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre), rambling the public footpaths in the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff looking for flora & fauna both common and rare. In 2016 we found a colony of wasp spiders in the Thaw Valley, and on a CNS excursion to the Coryton roundabout in 1999 we found long-winged cone-heads – the first for Wales.