Tracey’s friendly trips

Exploring Portsmouth.

Residents of Merton are fortunate to have an enthusiastic GTO in their midst. Tracey Waterman, organiser of the outdoor activities programme for Age UK Merton, constructs an imaginative monthly itinerary offering exceptional value for her groups and with wide ranging appeal. Val Baynton discovers more.

Tracey

Tracey Waterman

Tracey Waterman
Tracey Waterman became connected to Age UK Merton after volunteering at the Celebrating Age Festival in the London borough in 2013. She now works 20 hours a week for the charity leading on their outdoor activities programme and is also responsible for a variety of administrative tasks and banking. Aside from her official hours, Tracey willingly and actively researches more ideas for visits, developing itineraries in her own time. Prior to working with Age UK Merton, Tracey worked for the Patient Advice and Liaison Service within the NHS.

Tracey Waterman organises outdoor activities for age UK Merton, based in the London Borough of Merton. the varied programme for the Outings Group includes half day and full day trips to heritage attractions, art galleries, gardens, animal parks, historic towns or museums travelling by public transport or by coach. She also organises itineraries for the Walks Group and the Theatre Group. The outdoor programme is one of many services organised and offered by age UK Merton for people who live in the borough and who are in their fifties and over. the objective is to maintain people’s independence and to help them lead active and fulfilled lives for as long as possible. In the last year, Tracey has taken over 120 different people, the friends of Age UK Merton, on 46 trips and also organised seven trips to take place as part of the 2015 Celebrating Age Festival.

Researching Ideas
‘Coming up with new ideas for places to visit is easy,’ says Tracey. She’s helped in her quest by her husband Geoff and enthusiastic age UK Merton volunteer, and retired rugby referee, David Fisher. Longstanding friends, who enjoy long distance walks, they all love learning about Britain and want to share this enthusiasm with others. Whenever they are out and about, they are on the lookout for ideas for new visits, collecting leaflets and other information. they also find inspiration from attending travel trade shows, such as the recent GO Travel Show held at the Copper Box Arena, at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Tracey adds, ‘these shows are really useful because it gives me the chance to meet people from attractions face-to-face. Amongst the itineraries I develop there need to be trips that are suitable for the less mobile friends of age UK Merton, and it’s by talking to representatives from venues that I can really discuss what facilities are in place and how much walking or steps may be involved.’ In addition, every three or four months she meets up with some of the friends to ask for their feedback and their ideas for the future.

The programme, giving the schedule for up to three months ahead, is regularly published on-line and is also available at the age UK Merton activity centre in London Road, Mitcham, and at local libraries and community centres. But before a trip is publicised, Tracey will have carried out a recce, accompanied by David Fisher, so that she is fully prepared and knows what choices there are for the friends. ‘Tracey says. ‘a recce is invaluable. for example, whilst on a planning visit to Walthamstow we discovered the William Morris Gallery in the Lloyd Park in the town, and now that is going to form the basis for an outing, later in the year, and I will link up with the members of the art group.’ Tracey continues, ‘because age UK Merton attracts people with such diverse interests and abilities I also try to ensure that a trip can appeal on several levels.’ accordingly, the March trip to Walthamstow incorporates the market – with 100 stalls it is the largest daily outdoor market in Britain – the traditional shops on the high Street and an optional walk led by David. The walk will explore the original Walthamstow village with its medieval church, ancient house, 16th century alms houses, 18th century workhouse and 19th century cottages. Tracey adds, ‘It is a rare little oasis of history in east London.’

The Outings Group

Some of the friends at Penshurst Place.

Many of these trips explore the wealth of attractions and heritage in the capital city and the south east, and, aiming to be as inclusive as possible, Tracey endeavours to ensure each trip is affordable. She takes advantage of local transport as most friends are able to use their freedom Pass (this allows off peak free travel across London on most types of transport, as well as on local bus services across England). Charges for each trip include a small administration fee of around £4 and any admission charges – but the programme includes both free-to-enter museums and galleries such as the national Science Museum, as well as attractions that make a charge, so that there is something for every budget.

Last August, the Outings Group visited Chislehurst Caves in Kent. The man-made tunnels were formed over centuries as chalk was mined for various needs including lime burning and brick-making. Friends made their own way from Wimbledon and Mitcham Eastfields railway stations, meeting up at Waterloo east to travel by train onto Chislehurst. Tracey says that signalling delays en route gave the group of 26 time to catch up with old friends and to chat to new people who’d come along for the first time. At Chislehurst, the group enjoyed a guided tour around the maze of tunnels learning about their history such as their use as a munitions store for Woolwich arsenal in the first World War and as an underground air-raid shelter for 15,000 people during the blitz. Filming for TV programmes such as Doctor Who and Merlin has also taken place in the caves. It was good day out, Tracey remembers. Other trips have been to the Royal Hospital Chelsea in October 2015 and to Osterley Park.

During the summer months, the Outings Group travel further afield and, in 2015, successful trips were made to Penshurst Place in Kent, to Margate, and to Portsmouth. Tracey includes several elements within each day-long itinerary so that the trip appeals to a wide audience and there’s usually 40 to 50 friends on each trip. Local coach companies Edward Thomas and Banstead Coaches have provided transport, Tracey comments, ‘recently we’ve had the same coach driver, courtesy of Edward Thomas, and it’s been good to see a relationship build between him and the friends of the outings group. But both companies are excellent, and offer a reliable and friendly service.’

‘Penshurst Place was an excellent attraction.’ Tracey recalls. ‘It was a glorious June day and the gardens were lovely. there was plenty to do inside and out, including the historic stately home and the Toy Museum, so even if it had rained my group would have enjoyed themselves. It was also a location for filming Wolfe Hall, and seeing some of the props used in the film was fascinating.’

Margate was a great town to visit.

Tracey was inspired to include Margate after reading about the reopened Dreamland in GTO Magazine, and the town was perfect for the group. She says, ‘there was so much to do, from a guided walk led by David and the free entry Turner Art Gallery, to Dreamland with its historic rides and classic sideshows.’ Friends could also explore the narrow lanes and retro shops at leisure or relax in one of the charming pubs and tea rooms.

The Walks Group
Volunteer David Fisher researches the walks for the group, and he and Tracey lead them together. David is at the front explaining what there is to see and Tracey brings up the rear, ensuring no-one gets left behind. There’s generally one walk a month and the group of 20 to 25 friends sets off at about 10.00am from one of the local railway stations – Wimbledon, Mitcham Eastfields or Morden – and return home for 4.00pm. The two to three-mile walks have a variety of themes such as history, architecture and wildlife, and they are conducted at a leisurely pace. January’s walk was to Clerkenwell – named after the Clerk’s well and the group visited the remains of three medieval monasteries, London’s oldest church – St Bartholomew the Great, London oldest hospital – St Barts as well as Smithfield and Hatton Garden. Coming up are walks to Westminster and Belgravia, whilst another will be a return visit to Chesham, which was first visited by the walks group in 2014. During each walk the group stop for coffee and lunch – Tracey doesn’t book a specific refreshment stop as the areas they visit have a range of cafes and pubs, so that people can choose the type of venue that suits them best or even bring a picnic.

Theatre Group
The monthly theatre trips are always popular and Tracey takes advantage of group rates (for 10 or more people) at local theatres such as the Wimbledon New Theatre, to book a variety of shows, and upcoming are Shrek the Musical and Chicago. Tracey adds, ‘last year I added a backstage tour to one of the visits we were making. It was fascinating to see what happens behind the scenes, and this knowledge and insight means we now enjoy the shows even more.’

An Expanding Programme
Tracey gets immense satisfaction in organising the outdoor activities programme. ‘I enjoy learning about our heritage but I am especially delighted when I see other people get pleasure from the outings I’ve organised.’ Not content with the extensive programme she’s already developed, Tracey is adding new ideas, ensuring Age UK Merton can engage with as many local residents as possible. These include Cinema and Shopping trips, a walk in a park, Sunday lunch Club and pub lunches. This last combines a meal in a pub along with an insight into its history researched and presented by David, and in late March, the group are heading to The Falcon at Clapham Junction. Famous for its decorative interiors of screens, and glasswork – with designs by M.C. Escher – the pub has the longest bar counter in the country.

Bringing solo travellers together

Rope Bridge

Val Baynton talks to Jackie Ring, Holidays and Trips Organiser for The Unattached Group in Surrey, and finds out how she has perfected the art of ‘mix and match’ group travel for singles.

Jackie Ring

Jackie Ring
Jackie Ring has been involved with The Unattached Group (T-U-G) for a decade and has always ‘organised things’. This has been a common theme in her many jobs – as a college tutor, a PA and secretary, and as an agent organising programmes for visiting foreign students. Currently she works in a local church office looking after maintenance, writing news sheets and handling the bookings diary for the church hall, and she is an assessor of people training to be teaching assistants. Jackie is a member of the Group Travel Organisers’ Association and a newly appointed committee member for the Southern Branch, and she edits the newsletter, Southerly Breeze. She has also joined the Woking Area U3A and she helps out organising their trips from time to time, too.

 

The group in Venice

As Holidays and Trips Organiser for The Unattached Group (T-U-G), Jackie Ring arranges theatre trips and short breaks for a core of 100 or so members living close to Guildford in Surrey. She joined T-U-G around 10 years ago after getting divorced, and in the early days did not arrange many activities. As her children have grown up and her work commitments have reduced though, she has taken on more and now organises 30-plus theatre trips as well as eight or more two or three-night breaks annually. Generally between 10 and 20 people sign up for each of her trips, and Jackie also prepares A4 flyers about her events to be distributed with the monthly programme and on each trip. She adds, ‘I want as many people as possible to sign up for each trip so I actively promote everything I organise.’

The group is made up of single people who are widowed, divorced or who have never married, and aims to provide a range of activities that allow members to socialise as friends. However, having said this, Jackie comments, ‘In the 15 years the group has been running, there have been 25 weddings or permanent partnerships involving, what are now, former members.’ As the group focuses on singles, once a member does find themselves in a committed relationship – whether with another member of the group or someone else – then they are not invited to renew their membership at the end of the year. Jackie explains more, ‘We have found that if we include couples in membership then it really changes the dynamics of the group and we want it to remain for unattached people, who can dip in and out of the programme and have total freedom to interact with other members during each activity, as they wish.’

Another guiding principle is that every member has to organise an activity at least once in a six-month period; it may be a meal out, a walk or a cinema trip, for instance. This keeps the programme fresh with a broad variety of activities for members to choose from, and there’s not too much burden on one or two people to organise everything. As many individuals work or have daytime commitments, activities are often in the evening or at weekends. Each week there is a pub night; the programme outlining all upcoming events is handed out at the pub
meeting at the end of each month, and also emailed to members who are not able to attend. There are similar groups elsewhere in the country, but T-U-G is not affiliated to any other.

 

Outings to the theatre

The Royal Albert Hall, where Jackie’s group often enjoy performances.

Regular afternoon and evenings trips are made to the New Victoria Theatre in Woking and to London’s West End by T-U-G. As Jackie personally enjoys musical theatre, these are the outings she plans, which allows other members to organise trips to more ‘serious shows’. For the Woking trips, Jackie books direct with the groups team at the theatre, but for the West End she does often book through agencies such as Ticketmaster, See Tickets and Encore Tickets, using whichever company sends the relevant marketing material at the opportune
time and based on the seat allocation they can promise. ‘Good seats are very important to my members,’ she says. ‘I book four to six months in advance to get these, as well as the best rates.’ Jackie also looks for and receives last minute offers for shows and she will email these around to members to see if there is any interest, and usually there are at least 10 people who sign up.

Either before or after the show, Jackie will also organise a meal or time for a coffee. ‘As single people, we are used to going to places on our own, but we all really appreciate a chance to chat over a meal or drink. After the theatre in Woking, we generally have a coffee whilst the car park clears, and in London I hunt around for a good deal for a restaurant meal – usually pre-show.’ Jackie finds that restaurant chains such as Strada, specialising in Italian fare, can offer deals and she also uses her Gourmet Society Card membership to get discounts. This card (it costs around £30 a year but there are often joining offers) allows the holder to access deals such as two meals for one in a variety of restaurants, and at some places it’s possible to use it for bookings of up to 10 people. Jackie has booked meals on the riverboat RS Hispaniola, which is moored on the Embankment too. Set price menus are a good option for groups, as this can save many a headache when the bill is divided up at the end. Jackie has perfected a technique for this, however, and now prefers to sort the bill out before any member sees it so she can tell each person how much they owe, including drinks and service charge – which often get overlooked when individuals try to do the calculation themselves.

As with the majority of T-U-G events, members make their own travel arrangements to get to the theatre, sharing cars or using local trains and buses if going to London. Many members have bus passes, which are valid in London, so this makes these trips cost-effective.

In December, 10 members went to a Bert Bacharach concert at the Criterion Theatre in London, booked direct with the theatre. As usual, the group met under the clock at Waterloo Station before heading for a meal at Planet Hollywood, just off Trafalgar Square. Jackie was impressed by the freshly cooked food and the diversity of meals on offer. The group also enjoyed the show. Jackie says, ‘The Criterion Theatre is delightful and the show was lovely; there was a good selection of songs, all with a modern twist.’ Afterwards, members caught a bus to Selfridges and walked back along Oxford Street to admire the Christmas lights and the festive window displays.

Other trips have included the Royal Albert Hall, which Jackie books direct with the venue. ‘We really loved seeing Romeo & Juliet being danced there, in the round, by the English National Ballet last summer, starring Carlos Acosta in one of his final performances, and I’ve booked Swan Lake in June 2016 already.’ There have also been trips to the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall in Richmond for concerts, which Jackie says are ‘outstanding’. The group also go to recitals at the University of Surrey in Guildford. Music and drama students have to perform live as part of their courses and Jackie regularly books into a selection of these shows. Jackie says, ‘You are never quite sure what is going to be performed,
but it’s lovely to see these young talented students in action. The recitals are also free.’

Another excellent evening of entertainment was on a River Lights cruise operated by City Cruises. The three-hour cruise gave impressive views of London riverside landmarks lit up at night, and included a four-course meal with live entertainment. Jackie says, ‘This was enjoyed by all, the food was delicious and the singer was superb.’

 

Short break appeal

At the European Parliament on a trip to Brussels.

Jackie looks for a variety of short break experiences for the group, including city breaks, leisure hotels and an annual cruise taking in a variety of destinations to satisfy members’ demands to discover new places and things. Generally, the two or three-night break is over a weekend as these do not take up too much holiday entitlement for those members who still work. Members travel to UK destinations in the main by car-share, whilst for overseas trips Jackie will work with a variety of specialist operators such as Greatdays of Cheshire, Riviera Travel of Staffordshire or HF Holidays of Hertfordshire as they provide financial protection and essential back up should flights be delayed or cancelled. All three provide a good service but Jackie singles out Greatdays for the way they work with her group. ‘I was very impressed with their knowledge of attractions and places to visit on a recent trip to Belfast, and they booked a very good guide, which made all the difference to the success of the trip,’ she says.

Jackie suggests destinations through research she has done herself or because of a familiarisation trip she has been on, such as recent ones to Wiltshire with Visit Wiltshire and to Switzerland with the Switzerland Travel Centre. ‘I will only agree to go on a familiarisation trip, though, if I feel it will be something I am likely to offer to my group, and I will usually only organise an overseas trip if I have personally visited the destination beforehand,’ she adds.

For UK breaks, Jackie will reserve accommodation (members pay hotels direct) and meals, and suggest a variety of ideas, including visits to historic properties, gardens, walks and shopping, for her members to consider. During the weekend, Jackie will organise an activity, such as leading a walk or a visit to a National Trust property, but if members don’t want to do that they can join up with others to explore the destination themselves, taking in the elements that most appeal to them. Meeting for lunch and for dinner, members then chat about what they’ve done that day. Jackie adds, ‘This free-style, mix and match approach really suits my group; it means everyone is happy and can do just what they like, but we make sure that no-one is left on their own. We find people mix well too – three or four members might travel to the destination together from Surrey, but once there individuals pair up with other members to pursue specific interests.’

Single supplements are an important consideration for Jackie as, ideally, each of her members will want their own room. ‘I understand the need for a supplement as a hotel still has to service the bedroom and bathroom whether there are one or two people using it, but I feel the supplement should be at a reasonable level and a single occupant should definitely not pay ‘double’ for a room, especially as some single rooms are not that much bigger than a cupboard!’

Again, Jackie is alert to offers and as her members do like Warner Leisure Hotels, she will take up early-bird discounts for stays at their resorts. She explains that Warner holidays are always excellent value, and there is so much flexibility in what members can do in the day time – whether exploring the locality or staying in the hotel and using the facilities, whilst at night there’s excellent food and entertainment. ‘We can all sit together for dinner too, and I often invite members for a drink in my room first so we can all go down to eat at the same time.’

In mid-December, the group returned to one of their favourite Warner hotels, Bembridge in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, for a weekend break. For some members, Jackie says, this was their Christmas celebration. On the Friday, 21 members of the group made their own way to the island by car and ferry from Portsmouth, which Warner helped to book, ensuring good rates. On Saturday, about two thirds of the group went to English Heritage’s Osborne House, where they thoroughly enjoyed seeing the house dressed for a Victorian Christmas. Meanwhile, Jackie and other members went to the Christmas Tree Festival in Brighstone, using the shuttle bus there and back from the oyster farm at Isle of Wight Pearl. Jackie says, ‘It was very festive and lovely.’ Back at Isle of Wight Pearl, many members shopped, taking advantage of a 20% discount on pearl jewellery. On Sunday, the group again split, with Jackie leading a walk from the hotel to Alum Bay, taking the bus for the return route, whilst others went to Brighstone. ‘The entertainment at the hotel each night was great’, Jackie adds. Members made their own way home, but Jackie and several others lingered, taking a walk to a bird sanctuary.

Over the next six months, Jackie has booked breaks at Warner Leisure Hotels’ Cricket St Thomas in Somerset in February and Bembridge, on the Isle of Wight, again, in June. For the Somerset holiday, she will also make suggestions to her members on where they can break their journey on their way to and from the hotel. From the recent familiarisation trip she attended in Wiltshire, she would suggest time in Salisbury or Bradford-on- Avon.

Recently, Jackie has organised weekend breaks at De Vere Hotels too. She has found that although they are busy with business and conference guests during the week, they can often offer good value at weekends. By selecting hotels close to Guildford – at Latimer Place in Chesham and Theobalds Park in Cheshunt, Waltham Cross – members can arrive after work on Friday. Jackie says, ‘We enjoyed using their team-building facilities, such as the table football.’

Coming up for 2016
By taking advantage of discounts wherever she can, Jackie feels she can plan twice as many trips and breaks, and she has many ideas for the year ahead. Some trips, as mentioned, are already booked to take advantage of early-bird deals, but she is also hoping to plan a weekend in Salisbury and a visit to Geneva and Montreux for the Christmas markets, which she will be arranging through the Switzerland Travel Centre. And, as usual, Jackie will decide what to include in the programme using one decisive factor – that of enjoyment. ‘If I think I will enjoy the performance, the venue or destination, then I am happy to book and to organise the trip, encouraging as many other members of the group to join me,’ she concludes.

Bird watching trips

web pic

Val with the RSPB North Staffs Local Group, at the start of the ‘Bins and Boots’ walk at Deep Hayes Country Park, Staffordshire.

Birdwatching is arguably Britain’s most popular hobby; it’s certainly something that can be enjoyed by groups, and the experience enhanced by shared trips, as Val Baynton discovers by talking to the trip organisers of the RSPB North Staffs Local Group.

 

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Ian Worden

Ian Worden
Hailing from the south coast and initially studying earth sciences because of the enthusiasm for nature he developed as a child, Ian Worden eventually joined the police force and settled in Staffordshire. His interest in the natural world, and in particular bird watching, was ‘put on hold’ as family and work commitments increased, and it was not till 2007 that he was able to devote more time to these leisure pursuits once again. Ian met members of the RSPB North Staffs Local Group after inviting them to come along to investigate young peregrine falcons that were roosting in his local church tower and, having made contact, he joined the group himself. He’s now Coach Trips Organiser and he runs the monthly Sunday outings with his wife, Anne.

 

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has over one million members, and over 220 Local Groups, which organise a variety of activities including days out to discover and see birds in their natural habitats, run by birding enthusiasts throughout the UK.

The RSPB was founded as a charity in 1889 and its work is supported by a nationwide network of Local Groups, run by volunteers. The groups organise events including walks, talks and fund-raising activities, and each acts as a local forum for enthusiasts to learn more about birds, conservation and wildlife.

Black Tailed Godwit 2 Leighton Moss

Black Tailed Godwit at RSPB Leighton Moss. Courtesy of Ian Worden.

The RSPB North Staffs Local Group is a typical group, founded over 30 years ago and currently with around 200 members, ranging from 20-year-olds to octogenarians! Monthly trips, taking place from September to early June, are organised by Geoff Sales, Peter Durnall, and Ian and Anne Worden. To cater for all the needs of the group, they have developed three types of trip – a full-day coach trip on Sundays, a mid-week ‘Bins and Boots’ short walk and occasional car-share trips running on both weekdays and at weekends. Although birds are the prime interest, trips sometimes take in other aspects of wildlife, such as butterflies. The social and health aspects are also important factors for many of the members. Geoff says, ‘I joined to take my interest in birding further, and to meet like-minded people. Since I’ve retired, it means I can do more trips and I find it’s a good way to make friends and meet new people.’

Membership of the group is £5 per year and trips are costed out individually, with most members also joining the RSPB, local Wildlife Trusts, and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), thus getting free entry into the reserves they run. Any surplus monies at the end of the year are donated to the RSPB and following the 2014-2015 year, Geoff Sales was able to send a cheque for over £2,500 to the charity. Affiliation to the RSPB as a group means that there is also insurance cover for group activities.

Sunday trips
The Sunday trips led by Ian Worden are usually to nature reserves run by the RSPB, local Wildlife Trusts or the WWT, and occasionally to private reserves such as Paxton Pits, near to Huntingdon. Staffordshire is well located to travel routes in several directions, so a three-hour journey time allows the group to take in reserves in Yorkshire, Cumbria, Norfolk and Wales, ensuring there is plenty of diversity in the programme over each nine-month period.

Group at Walney Island

The group at Walney Island, Morecambe Bay in 2012. Courtesy of Ian Worden.

Ian and Anne plan the year’s itinerary a year or so in advance as the group’s events calendar is published every September. They try to include favourite reserves such as Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Potteric Carr, as well as places they haven’t visited as a group before, gaining recommendations from other members, from places they’ve visited themselves and from publications such as the RSPB’s newsletter, Natures Home. Generally, Ian and Anne go on a recce before booking the group into a reserve. Ian explains, ‘Even if a reserve has been personally recommended, we find it invaluable to go and see it before including it on the programme. This knowledge gives us confidence that the facilities that we need will be there and that there is good bird watching to be done.’ Hides, for example, are important – the group goes out whatever the weather and, if it’s raining, the hide provides much needed shelter. Another plus point for some members is a good cafe serving a hot lunch. ‘Given the length of the day and that we often don’t get home till mid-evening, many members like to eat at lunchtime so they don’t need to prepare food later on,’ Ian adds. Another practical point is that at smaller reserves, there may only be room for one coach so it’s essential to make an advance booking.

Razorbill Bempton

A razorbill spotted on a trip to RSPB Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire. Courtesy Ian Worden.

Between 35 and 45 members regularly attend the Sunday trips, and Ian uses Robin Hood Coaches from Rudyard in Staffordshire as the company provides a good reliable service and will pick up from points throughout the Potteries. Arrival at the reserve is around 10.30am and there is a breakfast stop – often at a motorway service station – enroute. The group spends six hours or so at the reserve, returning home for mid-evening, so 12-hour days are not uncommon. Sometimes they set off even earlier – especially when visiting the WWT reserve at Martin Mere Wetland Centre, where they combine the normal bird spotting trip with the annual Bird Fair, or to RSPB Titchwell Marsh on the Norfolk coast. The length of the day is one reason the coach trips are so well supported, because the combined journey and visit time is usually too much for an individual to consider.

During the journey, Ian will give a brief introduction about the reserve they are visiting and welcome any new members. He says that there is often a ‘meet and greet’ from the warden or resident expert when they arrive who will mention any special information or birds to be seen. Members then tend to split up and go round the reserve at their own pace, meeting up to share information about birds and wildlife, and where to see them. Ian admits, ‘We also use phones – on quiet mode naturally – to let other members know if we see something out of the ordinary.’ Everyone is very happy to share their knowledge with each other, and to help and guide any beginners so that everyone sees as big a variety as possible.

Whilst on the journey home, a list is passed round to get an accurate record of what’s been seen. Ian then gives a summary with a total bird count and reminds the group of the date and venue for the next trip.

Sedge warbler Lakenheath Fen2

A Sedge Warbler at the RSPB reserve Lakenheath Fen on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. Courtesy Ian Worden.

Ian singles out the RSPB Ynys-hir reserve, between Machynlleth and Aberystwyth on the Welsh coast, as his favourite place because of the variety of habitat and because an interesting selection of birds such as ospreys, goldcrests and willow warblers can be spotted. He also likes to visit Leighton Moss in Lancashire, the largest reed bed in north west England and home to breeding bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers, and RSPB Titchwell Marsh because it has good viewing places and excellent facilities as well as many birds such as avocets, bar-tailed godwit and oystercatchers to spot. Highlights of the current programme include visits to RSPB Fairburn Ings in West Yorkshire, WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire and RSPB Newport Wetlands.

Ian and four other members of the group have also joined an overseas trip organised and led by birding and photography expert Ashley Groves, through his company Experience Nature Tours. Ashley spoke to the North Staff Local Group at one of the monthly evening meetings and this inspired Ian and others to sign up for one of Ashley’s two-week trips to The Gambia in early 2015. Ian says, ‘The number and variety of the birds present was amazing. One of the most memorable sights was that of a martial eagle that had just caught a monitor lizard and was feeding on the same in a tree at the side of the road. Whilst returning from a cruise on The Gambia River, near Tendaba camp, we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of two pods of dolphin swimming in the sunset. These were just two of the many wonders that can be found in this quiet part of West Africa.

 

Peter Durnall

Peter Durnhall

Peter Durnhall
Retired engineer and media technician Peter Durnall volunteers as a warden for Staffordshire County Council Countryside Services, working in the reserves and country parks around the Staffordshire Moorlands, checking facilities for visitors and conditions for birds and wildlife at each location. He also uses his expertise with a camera to photograph and film birds and wildlife, and one of his films, Wild North Staffordshire, has won an international award. Peter co-ordinates the monthly ‘Boots and Bins’ walks for the group, and leads some of the walks, especially around Leek.

 

Bins and boots
The monthly Tuesday trips run by Peter Durnall have the catchy name of ‘Bins and Boots’ – bins being the popular term for binoculars. Although co-ordinated by Peter, there are a variety of leaders for each walk, depending on location.

Generally around 10 to 20 members go on the Tuesday trips, which are generally timed to last between two and three hours, and people travel by car to the reserves and country parks within a 20-mile radius of Newcastle Under Lyme. In the 2015/2016 programme, visits include Apedale Country Park and Sandbach Flashes.

2015-10-20 10.47.58

Watching from the hide at Deep Hayes Country Park, Staffordshire.

The leader for the day will usually have visited the park or reserve prior to the visit and, as with the full-day trips, new members are always welcome and there are two or three powerful ‘bins’ that they can borrow, if required. ‘The spares also come in useful if a regular member forgets to bring their own along,’ says Geoff Sales, who leads some of the Tuesday morning walks and car-sharing outings (see panel below). Typically walks start at 10am and are over by 12.30pm, allowing plenty of time to see a good selection of birds. Once everyone has arrived and is booted up, the leader for the morning introduces the reserve, giving a little of its history and an overview of bird species that might be seen – these will vary according to the season. Guiding the walk, often taking in more isolated parts of the park, the leader points out the best spots to see birds and other wildlife, and makes sure all members are able to see each species. The walks are leisurely, allowing for everyone to cope with the varied terrain, which usually includes steps, slopes and muddy and potentially slippery footpaths, but there’s plenty of time for chatting as well. Members bring drinks or snacks to eat enroute if they need to, but also sandwiches for an informal picnic-style lunch at the end of the walk – weather permitting, of course! As the walk finishes, the leader will remind members of upcoming dates including evening meetings, the next Sunday trip as well as the next Tuesday meeting.

 

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Geoff Sales

Geoff Sales
Geoff has been a member of the RSPB North Staffs Local Group for around eight years, and since retiring from his work as a laboratory technician at Keele University and a therapist specialising in complementary medicine, he’s had more time to dedicate to the group. He acts as leader of some of the Tuesday morning walks and the car-sharing trips. He has also become Group Leader of the North Staffs Local Group in the last year, which means he has additional responsibilities for the smooth running of the group such as arranging the evening meetings and being the point of contact for the RSPB head and regional offices, as well as organising committee meetings and AGMs, and answering emails from the public including those about injured birds. He is also arranging a county-wide birders’ conference to run in March 2016.

 

Car-sharing outings
Geoff organises the car-sharing trips, which take place every six weeks or so on a mix of weekdays and weekends, allowing members who do not have their own transport to visit reserves that may be 30 or 40 miles away. There are usually up to four cars, the cost of petrol is shared between passengers and a good spirit of comradery is engendered by the fact of sharing transport. Typical locations are Carsington Reservoir in the Derbyshire Peak District, Venus Pool in Shropshire and Belvide Reservoir near Brewood, Stafford. Lunch is either in the on-site café or people bring their own sandwiches. Like the Tuesday morning field trips, the car-sharing trips are ideal for people new to bird watching, and being closer to home are less intensive than the Sunday coach trips.


 

2015

Following the flight of a Kingfisher on the far side of the lake at Deep Hayes Country Park, Staffordshire.

Val goes bird watching
Val was delighted to be invited by Geoff Sales to go along on one of the Tuesday ‘Bins and Boots’ field trips, and she choose the October visit to Deep Hayes Country Park, near Leek in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

‘This was the first time I had joined a bird watching group and also my first visit to Deep Hayes Country Park, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, being made to feel very welcome by the 15-strong group. Peter Durnall was leader for the morning and his expert knowledge of the park meant we learnt a little of its history and how it originated as a reservoir for the nearby Potteries as well as seeing some unusual birds. At the outset, we headed to an isolated part of the park where redwings and fieldfare were feasting on autumnal berries. The two-mile walk was at a leisurely pace, and there was plenty of time to halt to admire the birds and to discover other wildlife such as an extensive badger set, or to take in the magnificent autumnal colours. We also visited a hide and saw nuthatches, coal tits and dunnocks feeding whilst elsewhere there were migrant wigeon and teal swimming on the pools around the park. The highpoint was spotting the brilliant blue flash of a kingfisher, and following it as it perched in bushes on the far side of one of the lakes and dove for small fish. I was lucky to be lent a pair of powerful bins, and I was amazed at the detail that could be seen! The morning was a lovely way to enjoy the rich variety of nature, and I look forward to repeating the experience in the not too distant future. Many thanks to Peter and the other members of the group.’

 


 

RSPB_logo_blacktext_Eng_CMYKA short history of the RSPB

The RSPB was formed in 1889 to counter the cruel trade in plumes for women’s hats, a fashion responsible for the destruction of many thousands of egrets, birds of paradise and other species. Concern earlier in the century about the wholesale destruction of great crested grebes and kittiwakes for their plumage led to such early legislation as the Sea Birds Preservation Act of 1869 and the Wild Birds Protection Act of 1880, but the continued wearing of ever more exotic plumes triggered further action.

Initially, the society consisted entirely of women who were moved by the plight of young birds left to starve in the nest after their parents had been shot for their plumes. The rules of the society were simple – members discouraged the wanton destruction of birds and interested themselves in their protection, and Lady-Members refrained from wearing the feathers of any bird not killed for the purposes of food, the ostrich excepted.

Some of the society’s staunchest supporters were the very kind of people who might have been expected to wear the plumes such as the Duchess of Portland, the society’s first President, and the Ranee of Sarawak. Leading ornithologist of the era Professor Alfred Newton lent his support and the cause gained widespread publicity and popularity, leading to a rapid growth in the society’s membership and a widening of its aims.

Today, the RSPB has a broad mission as a campaigning charity working to save threatened birds and wildlife, the special places they depend on and the environment that supports them. Its practical
land management and cutting edge policy work is supported by sound science and more than a million members, including the world’s largest wildlife club for young people.