Nov 04 2021

In the Spotlight – An interview with volunteer, Deborah Birney

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 at Whittle Dene, Deborah Birney


When Deborah told me about her work in the wood, she emphasised – as have several others of our wardens – the importance of the Trust having a presence in the wood, so she regularly visits. Deborah considers herself to be fortunate in that she has a cabin on a private holiday home estate next to Whittle Dene and she and her family spend a lot of time there.


Footfall has increased in the wood during the pandemic, and there have been a few young people camping or having parties, so as well as the usual woodland management tasks of checking for dangerous trees, organising some coppicing etc, Deborah has been keeping a careful eye on the pedestrian traffic.


When we spoke about favourite trees, Deborah’s response was instant:


“I love oak, as a species, but my favourite individual tree is one I call Queen Beech. She’s a 300 year old beech tree in the wood and has been on the ATI [Ancient Tree Inventory] for a while now.” Deborah added that she’s always on the look out for ancient trees that can be added to the inventory.


I asked Deborah about her other favourite species, or landscapes, or nature joys, and she was thoughtful for a few moments. “I like everything, to be honest,” she said. “I love to be immersed in nature… it’s a safe place for me – even as a woman on my own I feel safe. I like to walk in the wood in the early morning, without the dog, and I’ve seen all sorts. Badgers, roe deer, lots of different birds…”


I related to this absolutely: as a woman who also walks in nature all the time on her own, I recognised the ‘safety’ feeling. Although many women, sadly, are nervous to walk in quieter nature places on their own.


Deborah listed some of the birds she’s seen in and around the wood: jays, woodpeckers, and red kites, as well as the crows nesting in the ruins of the old water mill, but added that plants are more her thing, and that she enjoys wildflower spotting. We agreed it was an easier task than bird watching – plants and flowers move about a lot less than birds!


I asked Deborah about the otters that are mentioned in Whittle Dene’s write up on the Trust’s website.


“I’ve never seen one myself,” she said “but I know others who have. I would love to see one.”


Perhaps if she continues those lone early morning walks, she will get lucky. Though we did agree you have to be prepared to just be still sometimes, waiting and watching for the best creature sightings: moving about means the birds and the beasties will vanish. Not so Queen Beech and those lovely wild flowers though…


Daphne Pleace – Volunteer Whittle Reporter

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