A joyful spring day today, with the sun shining brightly on the splendid countryside of the Isle of Wight. Time to take a visit to one of the RSPB’s newest acquisitions, Centurion’s Copse, formerly part of the Yaverland Estate near Sandown.
This delightful hazel coppice, with its intriguing history, was for many years managed for shooting, with a vigilant gamekeeper and plenty of pheasants. As a child more than thirty years ago The Ranger well remembers slipping into these woods with his mother to pick the profusion of daffodils, primroses and bluebells – always keeping an eye and ear out for the tweed jacket and heavy tread of the keeper. That gentleman, whilst being fully aware of his ‘visitors’, never chose to exercise his indignation on the Vicar’s wife and her two toddlers. The springtime bounty of lowland coppice species is still on glorious display, but since the RSPB purchased the land to add to its Brading Marshes reserve, The Ranger has been eagerly waiting for spring to enjoy the delights of Centurion’s Copse without guilt after all these years.
These days, although he could quite legally gather flowers, The Ranger chooses to collect them photographically – along with pics of the other delightful creatures that venture out to enjoy the flowers in the spring sunshine.
It was whilst standing waiting for the sun to come out, camera poised and pointed at some nodding wood-spurge, that The Ranger became aware of an irregularity in his idyll. From across the cleared coupe a lady was approaching rapidly; gesticulating and yelling ‘Hi!’ and ‘I say!’. On her arrival all became clear – she was a volunteer warden for the RSPB, charged with keeping the punters out of the woodland. A thankless task no doubt, and the kind of thing that it’s hard to get volunteers to do. However her commitment to her mission was impressive. The Ranger contritely retreated to the footpath immediately – having been on the other end of such confrontations more than enough times. The lady explained somewhat breathlessly that the public had to keep out of the coupes as the woodland was very important for certain wildlife, so important, in fact, that she couldn’t even say what it was. Most intriguing. However on other matters she was more forthcoming. She was very knowledgeable about the mammals of the site and, once she’d sorted out the access issues and satisfied herself that The Ranger meant no harm, proved to be an excellent ambassador for the RSPB. They parted amicably, The Ranger safely on the path and the warden going off to look for red squirrels in the very coupe she’d just asked The Ranger to vacate. The irony of the incident was not lost of The Ranger. After many years of trespass unchallenged by the former gamekeeper, he’d come back specifically to enjoy the newly purchased wood; and been thrown off. But actually, because it was well-handled, he didn’t mind. Sometimes – albeit very rarely – in conservation you do have to turn people away. When you depend on public money or donations, this can be a hard thing to do. It’s a delicate balance. Once you’ve accepted the need for exclusion at all there is the constant temptation to allow access to a favoured few and exclude others – a beguiling strategy which only ever ends in trouble. The presumption should be in favour of access. Exclusion must be for sound and explained conservation reasons, and exceptions must be few; otherwise the public and donors will eventually sense the unfairness of it and your support will wither. Still, maybe it was a sign of the sensitive and thorough management that the RSPB undertake at Centurion’s Copse that they care about disturbance and public access; and rather than erect unfriendly fences and signs, they do their enforcement gently with a helpful warden. The human touch is certainly the best way, and The Ranger congratulates the new occupiers of this ancient copse on their good stewardship.