Oct 28 2021

In the Spotlight – An Interview with Volunteer Manager Colin Riley

Colin is one of the Trust’s eight Site Managers across the North England region whose generic work role is to look after anything between four to sixty different sites, often with very different types of management required, depending on the age, size and rural or urban nature of the woodlands in their areas.


Colin has been with the Trust for over 20 years, in several different roles, but conservation has always been his working life from a degree in environmental studies and into woodland management via practical volunteering and rangering routes. He describes his work now as a mixed portfolio of approximately 50 woodlands, mostly urban, but with some ancient woodland. His favourite site is Hyning Scout, close to the village of Yealand Conyers, and situated within the AONB of Arnside and Silverdale.


He spoke lovingly of the rare plants and flowers there, particularly the native touch-me-not balsam which is the main food plant of the rare netted carpet moth. I remember once years ago having this plant pointed out to me and we discussed how much sweeter smelling it is than its naughty invasive cousin, the Himalayan balsam.


For his favourite tree, Colin remembered a particular ash tree in one of the Trust’s woodlands that had to be taken down. 


“I loved the sound of the breeze through the leaves of that tree and it reminded me of another large ash tree my wife used to have on the farm she lived in Wales when I first knew her. That one too has now gone because of die-back,” he added sadly.


Colin was the only person so far who has asked me what my favourite tree is, so he got the full “hawthorn ramble” as a friend of mine calls it, with all the mythological information I love so much. He seemed happy though, and thanked me for my story! 


Colin also told me he’s a keen angler and that many of his nature joys are to be found in marine environments. 


“Although as well as fishing, I enjoy any kind of coastal walks,” he explained. “Much as I love woodlands, the marine environment is a change from the day job, if you like. My wife and I have recently bought a camper van and we love to go off to the coast somewhere with Amber, our boxer dog.”


“I also love our seasons. I remember the artist David Hockney talking about how he missed them during his years of Californian sunshine.” 


From the seasonal reference, we ended our conversation back with trees. I’d told Colin about the mythology of hawthorn blossom: he reminded me about the blackthorn as harbinger of spring. We spoke about how the white flowers appear before the leaves – they’re one of our earliest native trees to blossom – and with the black twigs and stems showing between the blossoms, it makes a striking image. No wonder Hockney frequently painted them both

Daphne Pleace – Volunteer Whittle Reporter

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