This year the Hertfordshire Natural History Society 1875 Award for an outstanding contribution to natural history in Hertfordshire goes to Steve Blake. Although not a Hertfordshire resident himself, Steve has nevertheless played and continues to play a very significant role in the Herts Bird Club and the wider HNHS.
Whilst still relatively new to birding Steve’s hobby started with a bang as his dog, Alfie and then constant companion, flushed a Purple Heron just over the Herts border! Steve has since gone on to find many other local rarities including recently a first for the county in the form of a Penduline Tit at Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits.
Steve’s dedication to his local patch, Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits, has helped put the site on the map as one of the top birding locations in the county. He has also been instrumental in supporting the nationally endangered local Tree Sparrow colony through topping up feeders and downloading data from the loggers that monitor the sparrows’ activity.
This ‘behind the scenes’ work – often involving weekly visits to carry seed to the feeder and check they are functioning correctly – is typical of Steve’s valuable but not always seen contribution over the last 10 years. Along the way, he will often chat to local dog walkers and other visitors to the site creating a sense of community and friendship and furthering others’ interest in the site and its wildlife.
His efforts have undoubtedly contributed to raising the profile of Tyttenhanger as a place worth protecting for wildlife – never more vital than now with the looming threat of large-scale housing development on the site.
Steve’s love of birds and wildlife in general is a passion he shares openly and no doubt led him to set up both the Herts Bird News and Tyttenhanger GP Twitter account in 2013. As any birder will tell you, getting bird news out quickly is vital, and this Steve has done daily since opening the accounts. Whether he knew what he was taking on remains to be seen but he has tirelessly maintained it, answering questions, sharing directions, re-tweeting and liking posts!
Of course, he has also had to deal with the negative, with ‘fake news’, with complaints and unwitting ‘snipes’ of the non-bird variety. This he has done with great tolerance and patience. His management of bird news on social media has, of necessity, involved him in moderating and entering records to the Herts Bird Club website too meaning that sightings are quickly and accurately published for all to see.
I’m sure all will agree, that this award is timely in that it recognizes an immense behind-the-scenes contribution by Steve so vital to the life of the Herts Bird Club and yet so easily taken for granted. Without it the Herts Bird Club would not enjoy, to the same degree, the sense of community and shared experience that it has, and of course, wouldn’t get to see half as many birds!
Rupert Evershed, Herts Bird Club Chair