Thursday, 25 September 2014

Conkering

Conkering is one of my most favoured joys of autumn. 
The simple act of wandering casually down the street, where leaves are beginning to gather in the gutters, to that remembered spot, where the horse chestnut tree is tinted bronze in the afternoon sun. To discover beneath the shade of its branches and great hand-like leaves, the sought-for treasure. 
Some years, a dry season means the conkers do not swell or ripen, or strong winds will rip the branches and send the nuts crashing to ground prematurely. But sometimes, when weather and fortune collide, nestled in the damp grass that soaks through your shoes, beneath those breeze blown brown-blotched hand-leaves that stroke your hair, mahogany jewels will gleam. 
The light reflects off their fresh, perfect surface; a deep rich shade like polished brown furniture. Turn it over and over in your hands, relish the smooth coolness, checking for blemishes or splits that would render the prize imperfect. Upon finding any, that conker is unceremoniously tossed aside in search of a larger, shinier more impressive specimen. 
Soon pockets bulge with lumpy loot, a collection to be laid out on the garden or kitchen table upon the return home, to be counted like gold coins. The largest, the smallest, the one with the flat side where it grew together with its twin, the one with the blotch that looks like an eye, the one you broke free from its case with the heel of your boot, the one you rescued from where it had fallen in the road. 
But always, that largest, shiniest, most polished, deepest tigers-eye rippled brown conker, the best of them all, winks at you teasingly from the branches. Beyond outstretched fingers it dances just out of reach, waving in the wind yet never falling. Sometimes it is tempting to launch a stout stick into the branches to dislodge the prize, but invariably it stays, unmoved, hanging there safely, secure within its green spiky, velvet-lined case.  





Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Seeking my Fortune

The Isles of Scilly, known as the Fortunate Isles, lie 28 miles off the western tip of Cornwall and these mysterious islands, thought by some to be the lost lands or Lyonesse or even the final resting place of the legendary King Arthur, form Britain’s only archipelago. A strong maritime climate means relatively mild winters and early springs, whilst in summer the soft sandy beaches and the gardens of Scilly become a sub-tropical paradise, a world away from their mainland cousins. 
The wildlife is particularly rich, splendid and unusual, and this plus the geographical and historical features of the islands make the Scillies unique, their special qualities recognised by a number of international designations and protections. 
Each end of the year, in spring and particularly in autumn, the Isles of Scilly play host to a huge migration of birds, some expected and many others blown far off course, making landfall on these islands in the middle of the ocean, under the watchful eyes of thousands of enthusiastic bird watchers that flock to the islands for the "Scilly Season". A bonanza of rare and exotic species, sightings of which are only dreamt about on the mainland.

Living alongside the birds and the seals, the Scilly Shrews and the red squirrels, are the people of Scilly. A life of contrasts; tending to the varied needs of Islands full of tourists in the summer and the annual influx of birdwatchers, whilst facing the brunt of Atlantic storms through the lonelier winter months, and being the first to pick the nodding yellow daffodils each spring. 
And for just four weeks this October, the population of the Isles of Scilly will be increased by one more: Me.

The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust (who manage a large proportion of the land across the island, including many of the uninhabited islands, and provide a valuable service to birdwatchers and other visiting wildlife enthusiasts) and A Focus On Nature (a network for young conservationists) are offering a unique opportunity for a 18-30 year old with a passion for conservation to volunteer alongside the wildlife trust, on the islands, for 4 weeks in October 2014. 
The ‘Ornithology Internship’ will include interacting with visiting birdwatchers, writing up daily experiences, using blogs and social media, contributing to the evening Bird Log Meeting, and building communication skills whilst representing the organisation.

I am very excited to announce that I have been chosen for this opportunity!

It is taking a little while to truly sink in, but I cannot wait to step off the Scillonian III ferry and explore all that the islands have to offer.

I am very fortunate in the fact that this trip of a lifetime will be part funded: AFON will contribute to travel costs to get too (and home from) the Isles of Scilly, and the Wildlife Trust providing accommodation for the duration of the 4 weeks. 

I will however have to raise the funds to cover the remaining costs of the trip, including food/drink and living costs for the 4 weeks, accommodation for one night between home in Sussex and the harbour at Penzance in Cornwall, and purchasing clothing and equipment that I have recently been coping without. This will include base-layer-clothing, waterproof outerwear, and extra memory cards for my cameras to mention a few items.

The experience itself will be a fabulous opportunity to put into practice and hone the communication and engagement skills that I have developed over the past 18 months during my Visitor Services Traineeship with the RSPB.

So I look forward to seeing any of you who may be making your own trip to the Isles of Scilly this autumn, and for those of you not able to journey across the sea, please keep an eye on the blog here, and I hope you will enjoy sharing in my experiences through the photos and stories I plan to share.


As a final note, if anybody would be interested in helping me raise the funds that I need/sponsor me, or donate specific equipment, you would be most welcome. Please don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss your ideas!