Thursday, 12 September 2013

Foreign delegates visit Cley Marshes

 Barry Madden, Volunteer Bird Guide at NWT Cley Marshes

The European Ornithologists’ Union recently held its 9th biannual conference at the UEA. To allow delegates to experience something of the East Anglian countryside and to provide relief from the confines of the lecture theatre, trips were arranged to various coastal nature reserves including NWT Cley Marshes. The appointed day dawned bright and cheerful and 9.30am saw a number of us volunteers and staff assembled in the Visitor Centre awaiting coach parties of professional ornithologists and associated conservation minded people from just about every country in Europe. There were even delegates from as far afield as Australia and the USA. 

The EOU was established in 1997, with the objective of fostering the advancement of ornithology and the promotion of the scientific study of birds among ornithologists within Europe. So, being favoured with a visit meant we were all determined to show these very dedicated, knowledgeable and interesting people the best that NWT can offer. I’m pleased to say that everybody certainly seemed very impressed with the way the whole enterprise is managed. And they also saw some good birds, had a paddle in the surprisingly warm North Sea and just enjoyed being out in the lovely fresh air of North Norfolk.

Bearded Tit at Cley Marshes, Ian Simons
It soon became clear that this was not only a fact-finding experience, but also an opportunity to indulge in a spot of relaxation. One young man from Portugal really wanted to see bearded tits. Now hearing bearded tits can be relatively easy, but seeing them isn’t always so simply. He was in luck though, for on this warm, fine summer day a party of four young birds obligingly perched atop the reeds near Arnold’s Marsh. A particularly pleasing episode, result: one happy birder. And then there were two ladies from Scotland who particularly wanted to see butterflies and were so happy with the common blues and wall browns still on show. But this was nothing compared to the added bonus of being able to watch a pair of clouded yellows that were still flitting around on the path near Bishop’s Hide. Big smiles and a life first for these young ladies. This coupled with the good selection of waders on show meant everybody had a chance to see something new. It is very easy to get blasé about these things when you encounter them every day, and it takes the genuine excitement and pleasure of others to bring home how lucky we all are to live in such a wonderfully diverse and nature-rich county. 

There was the odd glitch of course. I was sure one lady was asking me about flowers (she pronounced it ‘plowers’ but I thought that's what she meant). I merrily gabbled on about those very few plants I could recognise until it became clear she was getting more and more confused. ‘But do you get grey and golden ones?’ she asked. Grey flowers I thought, what on earth… and then the penny dropped, she meant plovers. A quick recovery with a straight face and European unity was restored.

We all agreed that it was most interesting to compare the state of the nature conservation movement within other countries as it compares to our own. The general consensus was that the UK has a very mature and well established conservation programme underpinned by a sound network of well managed and well supported organisations.  Sadly this is not the experience enjoyed by many of our European neighbours where there is a considerable way to go in developing nature reserves and changing the culture from one of abuse of wild creatures and wild places to that of preservation. But it is clear these people are determined to make a difference. Being able to see at first-hand how we in the UK  operate will hopefully lead to much better cooperation between our respective countries together with vital exchange of ideas and research for the common good. It was good to play a part, albeit small, towards realising this most important objective.

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