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September 17, 2021
Latest News Super User

We are recruiting

Due to the pending retirement of our Membership Officer we are now recruiting for a new Membership and Visitor Centre Manager. Visitors and our members are a vital part of what we do. As a charity, every penny we raise goes back into the continued…
September 15, 2021
Latest News Laura Wharton

Otter Activity at Sculthorpe!

We’ve had a number of sightings over the past few weeks of Sculthorpe’s resident Otters... Warden Tim Harris spotted the Otters on his rounds Tim Harris got these great shots of the Otters swimming in the water at Sculthorpe Moor We appear to now have a glut…

Nigel Middleton recently celebrated his 20 year anniversary with the Hawk and Owl Trust.
To mark this we decided to interview Nigel remotely with a cup of tea in hand via Facetime on a rather snowy February afternoon. The resulting interview provides a fascinating insight into how Nigel’s relationship with the Trust has progressed over the past two decades.

Early Beginnings:

Nigels earliest memory of what piqued his interest in conservation was in the 1960s. He recalls being 12 years old and fishing on the banks of the River Waveney. He heard the calling of two birds high in the air which were diving into the reedbeds. On seeing one of the birds diving down into the reeds, Nigel’s curiosity took over and to his surprise, he found a nest! He later discovered that this was a Marsh Harrier nest. The book he consulted informed him that Marsh Harriers were rare. Ultimately this discovery of a magnificent bird and it’s scarcity was where his passion for birds of prey and conservation began.

A Natural Naturalist:

Before being employed by the Trust Nigel volunteered with what was then the Hawk Trust (that’s us!) and also with the Raptor Trust. This was in 1985 when Nigel’s day job was as an agricultural engineer. He became more involved in countryside management and with birds of prey as a result of his volunteer roles. Alongside this, he took various courses and gained multiple qualifications. The more he learned the more involved and enthused he became by habitat management. It’s important to note that this was a hobby for him, his work as an agricultural engineer was what paid the bills!

When Nigel was volunteering at the Raptor Trust he found himself working closely with landowners, vets, experts and enthusiasts; he gradually built a network of contacts that would continue to drive his passion for learning and working with habitats. Nigel also took part in a lot of fundraising and other events which again only whet his appetite for conservation!

Conservation Career Change:

In 2001 a Conservation Officer role with the Hawk and Owl Trust became available after the unfortunate passing of Paul Johnson, who had the role of Trust Conservationist for ten years.  Paul’s work with the Trust left a staggering legacy of over 400 nesting boxes! The Hawk and Owl Trust were looking for someone to continue this incredible work in the East Anglian area. Nigel knew that he would regret not taking this opportunity, continuing Paul’s legacy despite it meaning a drop in salary and a career change. Nigel decided to go for it and left his full-time agricultural job to take on this exciting role at the Trust. 

Discovering Sculthorpe:

Whilst working alongside local experts in the Wensum Valley Nigel was introduced to Sculthorpe Moor, which at the time was a site of scientific interest (SSSi) and not the reserve it is today! The land itself was owned by a local parish and rented out for shooting. In the year 2000 Nigel was looking at Marsh Harriers nesting on the site, he came to discover that the shooting lease was coming up for release and that the land would be open to new bids. The thought that a nature reserve could be sighted on the land was something that sparked interest in Nigel and with a strong bid and a headstrong determination, he won the bid and the beginning of the Sculthorpe Moor Reserve dawned!

If you get the opportunity to talk to Nigel about the reserve you will probably draw the same conclusions as me. Nigel has a rare skill of visualising and realising what he sees. He is able to look at the landscape and see it all mapped out in his mind. He pushes for what he sees knowing that the benefits to conservation and habitat management are greater than what his job is worth.

Nigel’s connection to the Sculthorpe Reserve is evidently a strong one, his visions of walkways, meadowland and wetland is something that drives him each and every day. He feels strongly that the reserve is his legacy for future generations to enjoy.

A Note on Lockdowns:

Image: Ian Burt

It couldn’t be something that wasn’t discussed whilst interviewing Nigel. The Pandemic is a big part of our current circumstance, and it has had a huge financial and operational impact on the Hawk and Owl Trust. I wanted to know how the Pandemic had affected Nigel’s role within the Trust and how he had facilitated a new approach to work at the Reserve.

During the first lockdown, Nigel described the difficulty that faced them with lambing season. Luckily a small crew were able to work safely as for the most part lambing duties happened outdoors with lots of space. The perfect weather certainly helped with this challenging time. With only one lamb needing to be hand-reared we were lucky that one of the lambing team was able to facilitate rearing at home in a suitable environment (how’s that for remote working!?).

During the second lockdown, small bubbles of volunteers were formed so that they could still work safely on key projects around the reserve. Astonishingly many projects were completed on spec to a fantastic standard during 2020 and Nigel is forever thankful for the dedicated efforts and skills that the Sculthorpe volunteers bring to the reserve. Dragonfly hide, a new reserve walkway, works on the new wetlands area, a second new walkway in the woodland loop and the clearing of the fen meadow are but a few of the important projects that continued safely during the second lockdown.

That brings us to the present and third lockdown. Nigel describes his day to day as very hands-on with a skeleton crew. The heavy snow in February has meant that it’s been all hands on deck for the few team members that are able to come on to the reserve to help with livestock. The weather has made this lockdown harder, plus there are no volunteers onsite this time.

Interviewing Nigel over Facetime is all part and parcel of the type of world that the Trust lives in currently. Despite the need for some members of the Hawk and Owl family to work remotely, the wonders of modern technology allowed us to dig into Nigel’s past with the Trust. Nigel is hopeful that his visions for Sculthorpe will continue to run on track despite pandemics, changes in faces, and any other challenges that may lay ahead!


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