Oct 14 2021

In the Spotlight – An interview with volunteer, Ken Miller

It’s all about the trees… and so much more: staff and volunteers share their nature joys

Today we would like to introduce you to volunteer warden, Ken Miller


My first surprise when interviewing Ken was to hear that there are 18 woods he looks after! Many volunteer wardens do a great job looking after the one or two woods close to their homes, but 18 is quite something… even though, Ken told me, one is only a couple of football pitches in size.


Most of the woods are urban, set between areas of housing in and around Runcorn, so get a lot of pedestrian traffic. Not surprisingly, there can be a lot of litter too, and Ken tells me he often seen with his black bag, head down, picking up rubbish.


“I’ve been doing this particular job for a year now and I made a commitment to myself that I would walk round all the woods at least once a month,” Ken explained. “Sometimes it’s depressing to see the amount of litter –  especially drink cans – but it helps that I’m seen there, wearing my Woodland Trust hi-viz vest and available to talk to people.”


The word ‘ambassador’ can be overused these days, especially in voluntary contexts, but it definitely came to my mind in Ken’s case.


Perhaps more exciting than litter-picking are the plans afoot to organise practical working groups within some of the Runcorn woods. We found ourselves discussing the dreaded Himalayan Balsam, so definitely time to move on to nature favourites!


“My favourite tree – a sycamore – is probably not what you might think to choose, but this particular one is big, and old, and its bark is peeling off. I have a dinner-plate sized piece at home which has lovely dark red colours in it,” Ken told me.


He went on to explain that he loves birds, and flowers, as well as trees, but has now become interested in fungi. He recently found, and after research was able to name for himself, scarlet elf cup and stag’s horn fungus. I love fungi too and told Ken about Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life, which has just won the Wainwright prize for nature books.


I asked Ken about any other wildlife joys he wanted to mention. He said he wouldn’t say where it was, but he’s recently discovered a badger sett, and although he hasn’t seen any badgers yet, he’s keeping his fingers crossed. And is going to be keeping a wider watch too – for more than litter – on his daily walks through 18 woods.


We both commented on how we love to find things ourselves in the natural world. So, if you go down to the woods today, there might not be bears, but there are other amazing joys such as mysterious mushrooms, beautiful pieces of tree bark, and animal lairs!

Daphne Pleace – Volunteer Whittle Reporter

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