Thursday, 10 November 2016

Come rain or shine - volunteering on Gower

Ollie and Alys - two of our Gower volunteers

 “Event cancelled due to wind and rain”. 

The sign seemed to sum up our summer in a sentence.  Facing the prospect of their Wildlife Fun Day turning into more of a no-wildlife misery day, our rangers had taken the sensible decision to call it off. 

But I wasn’t too disappointed, as I’d travelled down to Gower to join their annual volunteer end-of-summer barbeque, which was still going ahead whatever the weather.  Whiteford Burrows, on the peninsula’s remoter north coast is the venue for both these popular annual events, which are based at the Cwm Ivy Lodge bunkhouse.

So with a couple of hours to go before the volunteers were due to arrive, I headed off to indulge in a bit of wildlife fun of my own.  And you can see why this place is chosen for the annual celebration of Gower’s biodiversity.  The newly restored Cwm Ivy salt marsh felt more like the Everglades than the Loughor estuary, with tidal creeks filled with teeming small fish and scuttling crabs, and exotic-looking egrets roosting in the nearby trees.

Sea lavender, amongst creeks teeming with fish and scuttling crabs
 After strolling through verdant woodland resounding to the call of woodpeckers, I climbed the limestone outcrop of Cwm Ivy Tor and sat amongst a floral kaleidoscope of lemon-yellow common rockrose, deep-purple greater knapweed and electric-blue viper’s bugloss to take in the vast breathtaking sweep of beach, dunes and marsh.  I know of nowhere else on the Welsh coast where you can find such a diversity of well-managed top-notch habitats in such a compact area.
Cwm Ivy marsh - an amazing assemblage of wildlife habitats
Snatches of laughter and wisps of barbeque smoke drifted through the conifers that surround the Lodge as I approached, and I soon found myself amongst the forty or so jovial volunteers, busying with preparations for the evening’s repast. 

The Cwm Ivy Lodge - the ideal place for a gathering

Part of my role is to encourage more volunteering at our coastal places, so I was curious to find out what motivates this loyal and dedicated band of unpaid workers.  I found that it varied greatly from person to person.  Some, like retired academic and coastodian Gordon, are fairly independent folks driven by a desire to adopt a particular place, helping to look after it and act as our rangers’ eyes and ears. 

Others, like retired husband and wife Dave and Margaret, come for camaraderie, being long-standing members of the lively ‘Tuesday group’. Swansea University ecology master’s student, Alys, calls her volunteering ‘sanity days’, as they give her a chance to clear her head of her studies and get out of the bubble of student life.  But the one thing they all have in common is a love of Gower and a desire to put something back for the joy the area gives them.

A dozen of us stayed the night and, as we breakfasted, the forecasted storm arrived.  The wind roared in the trees; the rain rattled on the Lodge’s tin roof and streamed down the windows.  We gathered under the veranda and shivered as we watched rain squalls sweeping across the marsh.  Even the usually-abundant birdlife had deserted the site.  

Gower volunteers - in action helping to create wildlife habitats at Cwm Ivy Marsh

 But soon we saw a few figures emerging out of the gloom.  I was amazed to find that they were members of the Saturday group, ready to join the task for the day.

As I got ready to leave for the long drive north, they were donning waterproofs and were being briefed by ranger Claire before heading off into the maelstrom to clear plastic off the beach. 

I was left with a profound respect for these hardy souls.  Such people demonstrate some of humanity’s greatest virtues: love of place, respect for nature and care for our environment.

No comments:

Post a Comment