(One aspect of nature and conservation that never fails to blow me away is how far above and beyond people will go for a cause they feel passionately about. For me, the tale from this weeks' guest blogger, Jonny Rankin, is no exception. Jonny and Sir Robert Yaxley, along with Andrew Goodrick, took on a mammoth 300 mile journey from East Anglia to Yorkshire to raise money and awareness of the plight of the turtle dove in the UK - see here for more information about Operation Turtle Dove.)
Unusually, I am happy to be at my desk typing this with the weight off my feet!
Normally I spend every available moment outdoors birding, walking the dog or riding my bike. Walking has rather taken over for the last six months as we have trained for and executed Dove Step – a 300 mile walk for Turtle Doves.
Dove Step marked Sir Rob’s and my third consecutive year of fundraising for Operation Turtle Dove. We have previously completed a 24 hour bird race, run half marathons and even had Turtle Dove tattoos! Despite the sleep deprivation of the bird race and modest endurance of the half marathon, Dove Step marked a considerable stepping up of our efforts. Our good friend Goodrick also joined us for 100 miles of the walk.
We wanted to do the most dramatic effort we could within the constraints of our fitness, available time off and finances. This quickly limited to us to walking, two weeks and staying within the UK. Thereafter it was a question of what would have the biggest impact. Some crude mathematics and map reading ensued and we decided covering 300 miles in 13 days was a good target!
Once this was decided we started walking long distances and with heavy weights in our packs. I still remember my first training walk of just 10 miles with a 16kg pack, which resulted in having to have an afternoon nap! I equally remember the first training walk at the full 25 mile distance and with a 20kg pack – which nearly killed me!
(From left to right: Sir Robert Yaxley, Andrew Goodrick and Jonny Rankin at Lakenheath Fen)
The idea of the walk was that we would start at the closest RSPB reserve to us in Suffolk; Lakenheath Fen - and walk the whole of the core breeding area for Turtle Doves in the UK. This would see us pass through the Turtle Dove heartlands of Suffolk, Norfolk and Lincolnshire then Yorkshire before finishing in Teesside at the Saltholme RSPB reserve.
So, on to the walk! We started at 8am on Saturday 29th March and completed 13 days later on 10th April. We covered near marathon distances each of the 13 days with the longest day a whopping 28 miles and some days entailing 12 hours of walking! We decided against reduced daily mileage and rest days early on in our planning – which seemed a little harsh by day 3 of the walk!
On the evening of day 3 we arrived into the Frampton Marsh reserve where one of our sponsors, the esteemed BlackBar Brewery had delivered some much needed recovery ales for us! BlackBar also brewed specific Dove Step Ale to coincide with the walk! This was available on tap for reserve volunteers and regulars as we did a small talk on Dove Step, Operation Turtle Dove and Turtle Doves. Despite the very warm reception at Frampton, it was a slightly uncomfortable evening for me as I’d undertaken some ‘field surgery’ on my right foot – removing some dead skin that was abrading the fresh skin beneath. Still our efforts were well received and it was a memorable evening.
As the walk progressed we found ourselves having off days independently, Sir Rob struggled on day four whilst I was in particularly bad shape on day 5. Oddly, accepting the ever-present pain and fatigue we had no further off days until day 10 which we both found a raw slog!
Really memorable bird moments of the walk were close encounters with Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl on the Wash, ever present Corn Bunting and Tree Sparrow throughout Lincolnshire, and crossing the Humber Bridge having walked the whole of Lincolnshire in 6 days! Of course the final moments of seeing the visitor centre and reserve at Saltholme, and the waiting friends and family was immense!
It is great to share the experience with Nature’s Heroes and I suppose the big message is that we feel an enormous sense of pride having walked 300 miles and raised a significant amount for the RSPB and Operation Turtle Dove. At the time of writing the total on the JustGiving page is over £2,150 and we also have further offline donations to add which should also boost the final tally.
It is likely these funds will be used in the same way that our previous funds were; for spending on habitat creation where no agri-environment funding exists to create much needed additional habitat for Turtle Doves. A hectare of sown Turtle Dove mix costs £335.00 so Dove Step will have raised enough for at least 6 hectares of habitat creation.
This is particularly needed this year as there is actually no funding for specific agri-environment measures in 2014 whilst the population continues to crash.
(©Andy Hay, rspb-images.com)
A huge thank you to my friends Sir Rob and Goodrick for making the walk both successful and enjoyable, eternal thanks to BlackBar Brewery and Wild Frontier Ecology for supporting Dove Step with such gusto and also Bridgedale socks for minimising the damage to our feet.
We are dedicated to raising both funds and awareness for Operation Turtle Dove and this year the Dove Step website; http://dovestep.wordpress.com offered an awesome conduit for this passion. We really feel we have furthered awareness of the plight Turtle Doves and re-enforced the Operation Turtle Dove message.
Do check out the Dove Step blog where we uploaded daily updates during the walk and be sure to check back next year for the next fundraiser; http://dovestep.wordpress.com
In addition the JustGiving page remains open; http://www.justgiving.com/DoveStep
A few weeks ago I wrote on here about our current campaign calling on the UK Government to exclude protected areas, national parks and other special places from the upcoming licensing round for fracking for shale gas. The consultation has now closed but the Government, or more specifically the Department for Energy and Climate Change, will be reviewing the responses over the next few months and deciding on how to take their licensing plans forward. This will include deciding on where to licence for fracking next.
To help keep up the moment please take part in our online action to email Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. We have prepared a template email for you but please do feel free to personalise it to give it more impact, and do tell the Government about the special places that you love, and why.
Email the Government today and ask them to keep our natural treasures safe from fracking.
We've had a brilliant response already, but the more people who speak out for our wildlife, countryside and climate the greater chance we have of encouraging the Government to take a more cautious approach to fracking.
Thanks, as always, for your fantastic support.
Regular readers of our Conservation Director Martin Harper’s blog may know that over the past two years we’ve been fighting to prevent the development of up to 5,000 houses on an ex-Military training ground at Lodge Hill, in Medway, Kent because of the site’s extraordinary value to the UK’s nightingale population. Martin posted his latest update yesterday.
In Spring 2012, independent surveys by the BTO confirmed Lodge Hill to be one of the most important sites in the country for nightingales and in November last year it officially became the very first (and still only) site in the UK to receive protection specifically for its nightingales. Lodge Hill is now a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ (rather a mouthful!), or SSSI for short, because it has such a high proportion of our country’s entire nightingale population in one place. If you’ve marvelled at the beauty of a nightingale’s song, imagine hearing 84 of them trilling away!
Despite an independent Government planning inspector having advised Medway Council that their overall housing strategy should be withdrawn because this site is too valuable to be developed, which the Council did, the developers have now gone ahead and updated their planning application – they still intend to build over the site.
The application is open for public consultation and the deadline has now been extended from 28 March to 15 April 2014 – if you’d like to register your objection you can find out much more on our Lodge Hill Casework pages. There you’ll find the history of this case and information about what you can do under the ‘How you can help’ tab, as well as links to Martin’s other blogs.
As ever, thank you for all your support in using your voice to speak out for birds and other wildlife around the UK.