Wildlife Holiday News

Wildlife in Hampshire - What’s with the leader?

Richard Harvey travelled on our 'The New Forest' tour and submitted this entry to our writing competition.

Woodchat Shrike

Many factors might make for a Naturetrek tour that is deemed successful:  A trip to an exotic location to visit a totemic site that achieves its aims, faultless organisation and logistics, excellent accommodation and food, binding the complimentary personalities of a disparate collection of individuals into a group. All of these make for a successful tour but a group, but a good leader can make it a glorious one.

The New Forest in May sounds idyllic but this year the Spring had been cold and wet and our weekend was, alas, no different.  Cool to cold wind, cloud, and fog, scattered showers and only an occasional glimpse of the sun.  The bird that topped most people’s list, the Nightjar, had barely reached England, let alone the new Forest.  Butterflies were almost non-existent and orchids had only just begun to show their pre-bloom growth spurt.  But, what might have been a washout was saved by the group leader - a naturalist in the broadest sense.  He had us thrilled at being part of a group looking at the rarest plant in Hampshire (and the UK). Or twice visiting a very rare puffball fungus, previously not recorded in the county and found on the verge, not deep in the forest.  Or racing across the county in response to a twitcher’s text that a rare bird (the Winchat Shrike) had been spotted  But that very trek became an opportunity to hunt for the Burnt-tip Orchid.

Time and again he took the opportunity to involve the specific interests of the individuals in our group, and of making us all wanting to understand and become involved.  The chance landing of a beetle on the back of one of us became for him an exciting overnight hunt in his textbooks for its identification. The botanist was sent out to seek a localised growth of indigenous plants such as the Wild Gladiolus - he just happened to know where they were. The birders were stunned by his ability to hear and identify the birds of the area, notably Wood Lark, but also the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and the Mediterranean Gull.  Herpetologists were shown Marsh Frog tadpoles in bog water supposedly too acidic to support them - but don’t tell that to the Grey Herons who live on them!

This ability to make each of the dozen feel part of the group,  to remember our various names better than we could, the ability to stimulate as well as to demonstrate, the facility to imbue enthusiasm in the face of disappointment is the mark of a true teacher.  And that is what he achieved - he was not just the tour leader.

We had arrived late on the Friday afternoon for a weekend of wildlife in Hampshire.  We came away on the Sunday afternoon with the beginnings of an understanding of the geology, politics, geography, botany and biology of a glorious and surprisingly under populated area of the United Kingdom.  And none of us felt short-changed by the vagaries of the English weather.

Read more about our 'The New Forest' holiday.