Saturday, 13 March 2010

Wow - a Pochard! (historical perspective Part 1)

Shortly after we move down to the Lizard in 1985, I'm persuaded to get involved with the Cornwall Bird-Watching and Preservation Society, which is apparently in need of new blood. As soon as I attend my first committee meeting as the new Secretary I can see why. They're nice people but the most proactive decision is probably the date of the next meeting! They do churn out a very good annual report every October (which is all down to one person) and they also own a reserve, the Walmsley Sanctuary, a wetland site on the floodplain of a tributary of the River Camel, near Wadebridge.

A trip is arranged for the committee to inspect the reserve one cold winter's day. In its heyday it had been a great site, with a regular flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese, lots of other wildfowl and waders and had turned up a few rarities. So I am amazed to discover that there is hardly any water and the place is birdless. The river-channel was recut some years ago as part of a flood alleviation scheme. No flooding means no water on the reserve.

I spot what has got to be a Sociable Plover amongst the flocks of hard weather movement Lapwings flying high overhead. I get Dave Flumm on to it. Half the flock appears to land on the other side of the distant road, whilst some of them carry on west. We leg it. Some time later, having failed to relocate it, we return to the group like naughty schoolboys and we feel their displeasure. They have found a Pochard on a tiny pond and seem pleased. What we need is a revolution!

I become the Society's Conservation Officer and we are gradually attracting more people who want to see change. Alma Hathway, Bruce Wotton and I propose a plan to create some pools on the reserve by constructing a series of bunds. We get approval for an engineer's report and it turns out to be feasible. Alma and Bruce establish a good working relationship with the farmer (who has a full agricultural tenancy!) and South West Water and they devote themselves to seeing the project through - despite, it has to be said, considerable animosity from one or two of the old guard. Bruce's lack of ownership of a tie could be an issue for some.

The transformation is astonishing. Birds are drawn to the reserve like a magnet. In 1998 the Environment Agency builds more embankments to create new pools outside the tower-hide. Today, with ongoing management by Adrian Langdon and his team, the Walmsley Sanctuary continues to attract birds in their thousands.

Next instalment: are we a birding society or a building society?


  1. You've never told me any of this before. I had no idea you had anything to do with the current state of Walmsley despite attending a field meeting to discuss the new hide when we had that water pipit. I'm fascinated now.

  2. Nice one - agree with the comment above. Love your commitment and modesty. Keep it up. SGLO

  3. Great read Andy - I love the older ramblings from Memory Lane...I remember SCH talking about these exact stories...they are folklore, so nice to see them in print. I'm looking forward to the next generation.