Reserve celebrates charity milestone

THE site manager of the RSPB's reserve at Minsmere is celebrating 25 years working for the charity.Under Geoff Welch's management, Minsmere has grown into the RSPB's flagship reserve.

THE site manager of the RSPB's reserve at Minsmere is celebrating 25 years working for the charity.

Under Geoff Welch's management, Minsmere has grown into the RSPB's flagship reserve. A new visitor centre was opened in 1996, and now generates over £600 000 income for the RSPB each year. Land acquisitions have extended the reserve to its current 969 hectares, and major management work has seen a significant recent improvement in the quality of habitats for creatures including bitterns, marsh harriers and otters.

As well as managing the reserve, Mr Welch also finds time for birdwatching, and has a particular interest in the avocets that breed at Minsmere having first studied the graceful waders for his research project at university.

Away from the RSPB, Mr Welch has also been actively involved in conservation work overseas, especially in the Middle East. Geoff and wife Hilary have spent many hours helping conservation organisations in Turkey, Jordan, Djibouti and other countries around the world. He also regularly gives talks to birdwatching groups.

Mr Welch began his association with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds working as a volunteer at the reserve after leaving school in 1974.

Although things have improved since, Mr Welch recalls his accommodation in a shed with no electricity and pumped water.

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Undeterred by this first experience, Geoff continued to pursue his dream of a career in conservation, and graduated in zoology and applied entomology.

He began his career with a short summer contract at the North Warren RSPB Reserve, near Aldeburgh, in 1977.

In the autumn of 1978, he was offered his first full-time post with the RSPB as assistant warden at Minsmere.

He worked alongside the first full-time woman warden with the RSPB, and romance blossomed. Hilary Beck subsequently became Geoff's wife.

In 1980, Mr Welch moved to Yorkshire as Warden of the Fairburn Ings reserve, where he worked for six years. He spent the following five years in Cambridgeshire as senior warden at the Nene Washes Reserve near Peterborough.

Mr Welch returned to Suffolk in 1991 to take up the post of site manager at Minsmere, one of the RSPB's most sought-after posts.

"It has been fun," said Mr Welch. "All in all it has been an absolutely superb 25 years."

Each reserve had taught him something different, but Minsmere, with its 25 staff and 80,000 visitors is challenging.

"Minsmere just keeps you on your toes. Minsmere is far more complex than any of the other sites," he said.

One of the highlights of his career so far was in building up the bittern population, he said. From a single bird when he arrived, there were now eight booming males and ten nesting attempts at the reserve, making it the biggest population in the country.

This Spring, he spotted a new bird on the reserve. Despite being visitors to other parts of Suffolk, it was the first time a serin songbird had been recorded at Minsmere.

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