It’s with great sadness that I have to report the sudden death of our colleague and friend Nick Quintrell. Many of you will have bumped into Nick whilst out on our Weymouth reserves or at least you would have admired some of his work at Radipole and Lodmoor in which he took a lot of pride. I am sure anyone who knew Nick would agree that his knowledge and hard work has contributed massively towards creating two amazing nature reserves during his 10 years of working for RSPB. He will be greatly missed by many people and obviously our thoughts are with his family and friends
As you can imagine we are all shocked and still coming to terms with the loss of Nick, hence the brevity of this note. We will post something more appropriate in due course.
It started like any other weekend shift really. Sure there was a lot of heavy rain falling but that seems to be par for the course this summer. I was soon to discover however, that this would be no ordinary weekend at work. Spring tides, phenomenally heavy rainfall and driving wind were all to conspire against us. My first inkling that things were happening was around 10 o’clock when I received a phone call from the RSPCA. Motorists travelling along the road bridge spanning the top of the reserve had reported seeing the cattle that graze Radipole, standing in steadily rising water. A quick phone-call to the grazier revealed that he was already on site, and had located the herd on a piece of high ground. Aberdeen Angus can swim (including the calves) and all of them survived the flood.
As the day progressed the rain kept falling, and I nervously watched the waters inexorable rise on the depth gauge near the Visitor Centre bridge. Earlier we had taken the decision to close the reserve as the paths were by then impassable. By early afternoon there was a glimmer of hope, the depth gauge revealed that the water level had started to drop, low tide had arrived. By now my colleagues Michelle and Nick had also arrived (Nick having abandoned a trip to Cornwall), and we decided to start moving the catering stock etc into higher cupboards, in preparation for the evening high tide.
The last thing we needed was another situation, so of course we got one. Luke had been to Lodmoor to assess the floods there, and it was apparent that the rising waters were about to engulf the tern islands. With 80+ tern chicks in situ the situation was quite literally chaos. The chicks were scrambling over each other to get away from the water, and the screaming adults were wheeling about in total panic. Eventually all that could be seen was the vegetation on the islands, festooned with hapless chicks. With the horrendous weather still in full force all we could do was watch.
The rest of the afternoon was spent filling sand-bags and fixing boards to the VC doors, in an attempt to keep the flood waters at bay. I left just before 17.00 to spend some time monitoring the tern situation at Lodmoor. By now many of the chicks were bobbing around looking for a feed and trying to find somewhere dry to stand, quite a pitiful sight. As I went home I reflected on a mad day, little realising what was to come.
The evening shift
My colleagues Nick, Luke and Chris all share a house near Radipole, and took a walk round the reserve about 20.00 on Saturday evening. With welly boots and waterproofs on it was still possible to access the paths. High tide was approaching, and with all that rain water it was pretty obvious that we faced further problems. Water levels at the concrete bridge were about to go critical (the bridge was eventually topped by water), and the lads approached the VC to see what lay in store. The water was coming in to our newly refurbished centre and was already ankle deep. Gutting! A phone call was made to Michelle (VC manager) who was enjoying an evening with friends and a curry. Like the trooper she is Michelle came back in to work to try and save what she could. She ended up being on site until 23.00. As she left the water was past her ankles and rising, and still it rained.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny. Having seen the scenes of disaster unfolding on the lads Twitter posts, I came in to work next day with some trepidation. As I approached Swannery car-park an apocalyptic scene began to unfold. The whole of the car-park was flooded, with abandoned cars up to the tops of their wheels in water. I made a futile attempt to walk to the VC in wellys, and soon had to turn back. Michelle and I donned waders, and set off to see how bad the devastation was. We got to the building where the water was up to nearly a metre high, and when we opened the back door the full enormity was revealed. Tables and chairs were floating everywhere, the freezer unit was bobbing around at a weird angle and there were books, bags, pond dipping equipment, paperwork and all manner of flotsam everywhere. A last few bits were saved, but the water was still rising so we abandoned the centre to its fate.
The team regrouped to discuss our next problem-the terns. I had swung past Lodmoor on the way in to assess the situation, and it looked bad. There were tern chicks dispersed widely along the top end of Lodmoor, and the adult birds were still in uproar as they desperately searched for the right chick to feed. Following a few quick calls to management a plan was hatched. We had a couple of inflatable mattresses lying around, the perfect thing to provide temporary platforms for the chicks until the islands were revealed again. Now we just needed someone to put them there. Step forward Nick Quintrell, who with his previous snorkelling experience volunteered to put them in place.
So we set off to Lodmoor. The chaos over the islands hadn’t lessened any, and with wetsuit, flippers and mask on Nick swam off to put out the temporary refuges. The terns were already hyper stressed out, so he had to get the job done as quickly as possible. Within 10 minutes the mattresses were out, and we stood back to see if they would use them. Within an hour the first of the chicks were swimming over and scrambling on to the mattresses. Result. I spent the rest of the day monitoring the terns, and counted at least 50 chicks in various locations, and several flying. If the flood had happened a week earlier, many of these chicks would not have had the stamina to survive. We also had sightings of 2 newly fledged marsh harrier chicks flying over the reserve that afternoon, they made it into the air just in time.
Aquaman to the rescue
Finally we are really grateful for all the offers of help we have received. At this stage we are still assessing the extent of the damage both within the centre and on the reserve, and once we know how best to make use of all your kind offers we will get the word out. Please watch this space.
Winter is a good opportunity to look at the often missed world of lichens hidden under the flowers and leaves in the summer. Not all lichens live on trees - some species are found on fences, roofs, walls, tombstones rocks and pavements. Lichens consist of a fungus and an alga. Together they form a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit to both. The fungus forms the body of the lichen known as the ‘thallus’ which provides a layer of protection for the algae from extreme temperatures and drought. The fungus relies on the algae to provide the food. Lichens are sensitive to levels of acid and nitrogen in the air and so can be useful as pollution indicators. There are over 1500 species of lichens in Britain. There are a number of common lichen species around Radipole Lake. Unfortunately, few have English names.
This bright orange species is very common near the coast and is the most resistant to air pollution. You can see this species on the bridge near the Visitor Centre and in the hedgerows on the reserve. This lichen likes nutrient rich trees and walls especially bird perching sites.
This species is very common on the blackthorn in the hedgerows near the Visitor Centre and also likes nutrient enriched sites.
A common species in the Radipole hedgerows easily identified as the branches are green-grey above with a white underside. Long tailed tits often use the lichen to camouflage their nests. In the past this lichen was used as a perfume fixative, dying, hair powder and bread flavouring.
This species also likes nutrient rich sites but is not so common on Radipole though it can be seen on the wooden railing fence by the path to the North Hide. The black ‘jam tarts’ are the fruiting bodies containing the spores.
This species is common on smooth bark trees and twigs and can be seen on the blackthorn in the hedgerows at Radipole. It is named Graphis due to the resemblance of the fruiting body to old-fashioned writing.
This one can be found on the concrete bridge on Radipole and on the brick walls on Beachdown Way, Lodmoor. This species can be identified by the reddish-brown ‘jam tarts’ being very crowded in the centre and are contorted in more mature specimens.
The lichen is common in the Radipole hedgerows and prefers well-lit nutrient rich bark. The branches are short and end in many fruiting bodies. This species presence indicates clean air and can be found in abundance away from the roads around Radipole.
This one is common in urban areas and is one of the more pollution resistant lichens. Often found on pavements where it is mistaken for discarded chewing gum. Hence, it is known as the ‘Chewing Gum Lichen’. This can found on the patio area outside the Visitor Centre.
How many lichens can you count on this branch?
This photo is of one the branches on the ash tree by the path near the Buddleia Loop and is a good place to see a variety of lichens together. How many lichen species can you count on this branch?
The evening of Tuesday 30th October saw colleagues and friends of Nick Quintrell gather in the Visitor Centre to remember and celebrate his life. Nick's sister Tammy and her children, along with Mazie, visited the reserve earlier in the day. The children participated in the half term events laid on at the Visitor Centre and had made bug hotels and enjoyed some painting. Mazie also enjoyed herself catching with old friends and receiving lots of fuss and attention.
Photos celebrating all aspects of Nick's life were on display together with a exhibition of photos loaned from The Shark Trust, a favourite charity. A memorial scrap book was available for guests to write their special memories and thoughts and to add any photos. If you were unable to attend the memorial evening, the scrap book will be available in the Visitor Centre for the next two weeks. Please see Danny or Michelle.
A display board charted Nick's competitive sailing years when he was in his early teens; many of the events he participated in were reported in the local papers. Also on show were photos illustrating his happy Cornish childhood and his favourite rockpooling and fishing beach at Nansidwell in Cornwall, along with pictures of Nick in later years.
Out on the patio Tom, our Wild about Weymouth and Portland Officer was putting his bushcraft skills to good use brewing up a very large and tasty veggie curry. Very welcome on a clear, sunny but chilly evening.
Guests brought an array of food and drink to share during the course of the evening. Mazie was on hand earlier to inspect the food and did a grand job of looking after my handbag which was hiding her doggie bone.
Kind hearted RSPB staff also included Radipole's ducks in Nick's celebration event as you can see from the photo below. They must have been the happiest ducks in town!
The event was very well attended with around 90 guests from all areas of Nick's life filling the Visitor Centre; many happy memories of Nick were shared by all amongst the eating, drinking and making merry.
Throughout the evening a presentation compiled by Nick's colleagues ran continuously. It illustrated a lesser known side of Nick with items ranging from his tastes in music, books, subjects he disliked intensely, his Twitter quotes, environmental concerns to name but a few.
Later in the evening former site manager and close friend Nick Tomlinson gave a short speech and we all raised our glasses and toasted Nick Q.
The Top Five Nick Q Memories
Nick Q's heroics in rescuing the terns was a subject that was talked about again and again. RSPB volunteer Jean Watling kindly sent me the photo below, which she took of Nick Q preparing for the rescue while Luke and Chris look on in their wellies from the flooded path.
You touched the lives of many in during your short life on this earth. Not just the human lives of your family, your friends, your colleagues and the many people you crossed paths with over the years, but also the lives of the birds, the animals, the plants, the insects of the natural world around you. Nick, you are a national rarity and a local legend. Your presence has made a great difference to everyone you met and our lives are all the richer for knowing you. We all miss you.
Farewell Nick, rest in peace, wherever you are.
The Dorset Team would like to thank everyone who attended the Memorial Event. Special thanks to the following in no particular order:
Tom Clarke, Charlie Storey, Luke Phillips, Chris Emblem-English, Nick Tomlinson, Tammy Taylor, Michelle Williams, Danny Bartlett, Mark Singleton, Jenny Goy, Sarah Webb, Lynne Burningham, Naomi Bailey and The Shark Trust,
Thanks also to RSPB staff, RSPB volunteers and Nick's family and friends for their continuing support during this sad difficult time.
The hedgerows around Radipole are very abundant and colourful now as we move into early summer. This is the time when Radipole's orchids start to appear by the paths. I counted three Southern Marsh Orchids in the early stages of flowering on the Buddleia Loop this afternoon. I hope plenty more are on their way. The Bee Orchid I passed twice this afternoon before I noticed it in the grass by the path to the North Hide. Bee Orchids are an opportunist plant and can turn up in unexpected places. Some years it is abundant on a particular site and in others it can be sparse. Both pictures below were taken this afternoon.
The year 2009 was a particularly orchid abundant year when 32 Bee Orchids and 170 Southern Marsh Orchids were counted around the reserve. Other orchids to look for on Radipole is the Common Spotted Orchid which normally appears on the Buddleia Loop near the viewing shelter and the Pyramidal Orchid which flowers in July and is usually by the path down to the North Hide.