Thirty years ago I started working for the RSPB on a six month upland bird surveying contract – with the additional challenge of helping to protect England’s only regular nesting hen harriers. The Forest of Bowland was the only stronghold for hen harriers in England in 1982 – it still is. I’ll be contributing a series of guest blogs over the spring and summer and tweeting in real time on @andrefarrar

My spring in Bowland was going well. I’d got a great team of two volunteers, the weather was generally fine, birds were nesting and I was putting as much time as I could into talking to local people, farmers and particularly the gamekeepers.

I’d caught up with Peter Barlow, son of one of the ‘keepers who was later to become a ‘keeper himself. We agreed that we should go for a walk together. I was (I thought) up to the challenge as I was as fit as I’d ever been. So we met up and set off on what would be a 14 mile yomp through knee-high heather.   We both learned a lot and it remains, after all these years, one of my most memorable walks.  Eventually we got back to our vehicles, his Landrover and my, um, Talbot Horizon. We exchanged a few final pleasantries and he roared off.  As the back of the Landrover disappeared round the corner I gently subsided on the verge unable to take another step.

Bowland landscape - Photo Barrie Cooper

One of the great joys of the spring were the waders; daily encounters with oystercatchers (everywhere), redshanks and lapwings on the lower ground, common sandpipers on the streams, snipe tucked away in wet fields and curlews, their calls never far away. I certainly didn’t take them for granted, back then, but the collapse in numbers was yet to come ... you can read about how that story is developing to today, here.

In these blog posts I’ve avoided naming individuals, it was all a long time ago – but I’ve made an exception for Peter Barlow as only a few years later and still so young he died after a long illness. I’m glad we shared that walk.

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