Honorary Reserve Managers Nigel and Lois

Nigel and Lois Harbron 2020

Honorary Reserve Managers, Nigel and Lois Harbron, have been volunteering with the Trust for many years now. Here they describe how volunteering keeps them fit and active and has continued to provide them with fantastic opportunities for life-long learning.

Since we first got together - over 50 years ago now - we have always enjoyed being out in the countryside, but paid work and family commitments didn’t seem to leave much spare time for voluntary work. However, some 25 years ago, we found that we were beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel with the offspring well on the way towards independence, and, as a result, some weekends when we could again choose what we wanted to do.

On moving to Cumbria, we had joined Cumbria Wildlife Trust and it seemed the obvious organisation to volunteer for. Initially, we simply went to official work parties and enjoyed the experience so much that, at the age of 55, we took the decision to go into part-time employment in order to free up a couple of days every week to do additional work for the Trust. As we spent more time on nature reserves, we realised that it was the ones based on limestone that appealed most. Thus began our long-running involvement on nature reserves in the Kirkby Stephen area, mainly Smardale, Waitby Greenriggs, Argill Woods and Augill Pasture.

Initially, we used our extra days to follow up on any left-over work from work parties, having learned any requisite skills when under direct supervision. In time, we began to see opportunities for work, and would raise these with Reserves Officers to get permission to proceed. In this way, we started to develop skills which allowed us to tackle most of the practical tasks likely to be encountered on a nature reserve: walling, step and revetment work, coppicing, hedge-laying, drainage, fencing, scrub management, etc. As we broadened our range of activities, we found ourselves on the receiving end of really useful training/courses organised or paid for by the Trust. Of course, whilst doing all of the above, we have had the privilege of seeing at first hand the wonderful flora and fauna of the nature reserves, and have benefited from many casual ‘lessons’ as we have encountered scores of knowledgeable visitors along the way. With the increase in our knowledge, we have been able to take part in many enjoyable surveying and monitoring activities.

Lois Harbron carrying brash

Lois Harbron carrying brash. Nigel harbron

As volunteers, we are able to pick and choose when and where we go, so if the weather looks miserable, we can stay at home!

We have a standard routine which involves packing the car the night before with any necessary tools and materials; arriving on site around 10am; having a break back in the car at lunchtime (to soothe the aching limbs!), before setting off home around 4pm. We keep a diary of what we have done, and almost invariably report on the day to Reserves Officers so that they know what has happened.

We have had the pleasure of being Honorary Managers of two nature reserves (Argill Woods and Augill Pasture) and possibly the most rewarding general aspect of our work has been getting to know these relatively small reserves intimately. Of course, you never know what you might come across on a nature reserve and two specific ‘finds’ come to mind. At Smardale, we rediscovered a small colony of fly orchids and at Augill, a very rare hybrid between frog and common spotted orchids, possibly the only one in the UK that year!

Lois Harbron and hybrid orchid

Lois and hybrid orchid at Augill Pastures

Before we started volunteering, we were both physically active, but, nowadays, we don’t need to go to the gym, or indulge in jogging or fell walking, as we get all the exercise we need (and a little more some days!) on nature reserves. Again, as volunteers, we can do as much or as little as circumstances dictate, and no-one grumbles that we haven’t done enough!

Although we often work on our own, we have regularly worked with others, including quite a few young volunteers/apprentices, and it is particularly rewarding to encounter these young and committed folk.

When we are not working on nature reserves, we have a garden and an allotment to work on, and are lucky to have a very active environmental group in the village (Kirkoswald). We have really enjoyed putting some of the skills we have learned on nature reserves into practice in the village. We are particularly proud of having created a large wildlife pond on an abandoned allotment, which is a constant source of inspiration nearly all year round.

Inevitably, 2020 was a difficult year. We joined wholeheartedly in the first lockdown, but, in June approached the Trust to see if we might be able to tackle some work, under strict rules. The main problem was a vast amount of brash left over from significant hedge-laying (by a contractor) at Waitby and we were delighted when the Trust allowed us to do the work on the grounds that it was ‘essential’ if it were to meet the requirements of some quite lucrative stewardship schemes, so we have managed to have a reasonably active year, albeit mainly on our own.

Inevitably, we are not getting any younger and we know that we are no longer able to work at some tasks for as long as we used to, but, with a little advance planning, it is quite possible to create a day out involving a range of activities, and, if we spend a little more time now ‘monitoring’ than we used to, it is all part and parcel of being a volunteer, and we hope to carry on for as long as we can. There is a lot of talk about life-long learning nowadays, and volunteering continues to provide us with it.

Work party at Waitby Greenrigs after storm. Wal and Nigel Harbron

Work party at Waitby Greenrigs after a storm - Andrew Walter and Nigel Harbron. Credit Alan Gendle