Volunteer stories- my best wildlife experience

We asked Kevin Slater one of our Event and Education Volunteers at Stirley Farm to take part in our volunteer article for the autumn members magazine, here is Kevin’s unique take on what his best wildlife moments and why volunteering at Stirley Farm is special to him

I hate doing this; writing something that could be seen as a mouthful of feathers and fluff isn’t me. I need meat! However, orders are orders, so here goes:

My best Wildlife Moments.                                 

Was it rock pooling as a child on the welsh coast? No!                                      

Was it seeing the red squirrels in Formby?         Nope!                                      

Was it watching a huge wild pig foraging the tidewrack on a secluded beach in India? Nah!

Was it having a magnificent stag with full antlers jump in front of you as you drove between Ulverston and Coniston? No!

Was it being within the striking distance of a large wild crocodile? Nope! 

Was it swimming off the Portuguese coast and realising you was swimming in the middle a gigantic school of sardines? Nar!                                    

Was it wandering through streets throng with bats? No!                  

Was it seeing pink dolphins break the bow waves as you frequently sailed between the different Hong Kong islands in the South China Seas? Nah!                                   

None of the above! They all remain treasured memories, but my best experiences probably lie closer to home.

In fact, at Stirley Farm. It’s worth noting that Stirley Farm is in Huddersfield, a town which in 2018 was polled to be the worst town in England to live in. Yet, the education programmes provided at Stirley bring real joy to children.

Imagine you are a child living in a block of flats... You get up, go to school, come home, play on a rundown playground, do your homework, go to bed and repeat daily. Like it or not, Saturdays you’re taken shopping. Sunday you can play on the computer, (if you have one) otherwise the only time you will get to see the countryside or animals is on TV or in a book.

But... and this is a big, big but, on our organised school trips, children can engage with the wonders of nature for themselves.

So... Come on then... Tell us your best Wildlife Moments.

Was it when taking part in a ‘Bugs & Slugs’ programme you noticed that a little girl was awestruck watching the butterflies flit between flowers and eventually tugged on your sleeve and asked, “Mr Kevin... Mr Kevin, Are they fairies, real fairies?” Possibly! (It was a magical moment). Only topped by sitting down with the group and discussing a butterfly’s lifecycle as they flew around.

Was it another day when a little boy using a walking frame, was struggling to keep up with the group? Possibly! Because the magic occurred when two of his friends, suddenly stopped, ran back, and walked with him (at his pace) to join the group. This was camaraderie, not purely a human trait, but something that is seen in wildlife.           

Was it on another day, when you saw that a little girl was getting visibly distressed trying to catch a snail? It transpired she was severely visually impaired. So, you helped, caught a snail and a beetle, put them in your hand and gave her a magnifying glass so she could look very closely at them. Definitely! I will never ever forget the look on her face or the smile she bestowed on me; it was glorious!

Yoda said, “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is”. I was lucky, very lucky, I had a privileged childhood. But, those were very different days, which is why I believe the work of YWT is now crucial. A childhood without mud, bugs, puddles, trees, twigs, tadpoles, sticklebacks and frogs is a childhood lost! I believe we have a responsibility – no – ‘duty’ – to show children some real magic.

Everyone is important! Please try hard to remember, that all disabilities are not obvious. If any disabled person, adult or child, visits a YWT site, (be their disabilities be obvious or not) they have only one special need, ‘They simply want to be accepted by you as they are.’ The last thing they need is a cup of tea or a glass of orange and to be stuffed in a corner and ignored. Try talking to them directly, [not their carer, if they have one] and you’ll be truly rewarded.   

I strive to ensure that children visiting the farm will by the end of the day, find their trip wasn’t only educational, but fun and a magical experience. It’s my earnest desire that they will become: ‘Stirley Heroes - Protectors of Wildlife’.

I won’t abuse ‘love’ by saying why I love being a volunteer, because people love their cars, chocolate and their phones. I personally only use the word ‘love’ appropriately and for those who understand its true meaning. But, I certainly recognise commitment and feelings. I am committed to Stirley Farm and to the continued growth of education programmes. I like many others at Stirley feel we have come a long way in a short space of time, but the potential and scope for more is great.

Be in no doubt... The volunteers at Stirley are strong and fired with true Yorkshire grit.                        

K. P. Slater BA (Hons) Env Studs.