Thursday, 15 February 2018

Neal’s Nursery

Neal's nursery. Photo: Paul Loughnane

At the Wirral Countryside Volunteer’s 32nd AGM in January, although the group is the biggest it has ever been, I made an appeal that we should encourage some more youngsters to be volunteers. The next day our youngest volunteer Ken was in contact say he has taken up a job with the National Trust in Devon and could no longer be our tool officer!

Ken Neal arrived on the scene in autumn 2011 just as we were coppicing the Embankment Coppice at New Ferry Butterfly Park. “Dr Ken” was a breath of fresh air being in his 30s with enthusiasm, backed up with a PhD and lots of nature conservation experience working as an ecological consultant carrying out a broad range of ecological surveys. Ken has been a regular and very energetic volunteer, a great driver for getting the roof of the container repaired and the tool container organised. He is the only volunteer I know who can step on to the container roof. One step on the lock protector on the door and the next up on to the roof. I wonder if it is anything to do with the spider tattoo he sports? Ken’s newly acquired chainsaw skills were especially useful at Alford when we were battling in February 2017 at 6pm with the fading light to get the final lengths of difficult hedge laid, those that were unsuitable for the national hedge laying match in October 2016.

Goodbye Ken. Photo: Elizabeth Woloschin

Ken gave two talks to Wirral Wildlife Group, one on “Sharks, Snakes, Spiders & Science” and the other on “The Ecology of Offshore Wind farms”. Both talks were honest, funny and illuminating accounts of these topics. Ken carried out systematic bird Surveys at Thornton Wood and New Ferry Butterfly Park. He organised some moth trapping nights at New Ferry Butterfly Park with the volunteers and wrote a blog of his findings. Ken surveyed the oak regrowth in Thornton Wood using GPS. Conclusions: those areas of oak regrowth often correlated with Wirral Countryside Volunteers activity! Confirming scientifically what we already knew. Thanks Ken.

Ken’s new position is working for the National Trust on an exciting project to increase the biodiversity of the farmland that they own by encouraging tenant farmers to modify their agriculture methods to benefit wildlife. Agriculture covers a large area meaning Ken’s work will benefit more wildlife than just volunteering with the WCV. Ken has often measured decline of the state of nature or the environmental impacts of industrial projects. Now he will be driving projects and measuring their environmental benefits.

Ken cutting his cake with a billhook. Photo: Paul Loughnane

On his last day with the volunteers Ken constructed a raised bed as a revamp of the volunteer’s tree nursery or should we call it Neal’s Nursery? There was a little presentation with his favourite coconut and apricot cake in the shape of a large K which he cut in good volunteer tradition with a Yorkshire billhook and was presented with a book on Devon hedges. Ken said the experience with the volunteers helped him clinch the job.

Paul Loughnane

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