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WWT Arundel’s Centre Manager Tim McGregor talks birds, humans and the wonder of wetlands

Posted on 02 Dec 2019

WWT has nine Centres around the UK, which help showcase UK wetlands and the amazing wildlife that depends on them.

At the helm of our Centre at Arundel is Tim McGregor, charged with looking after all the visitors and staff. Tim has also found himself transporting rare, sick ducks, fixing gates and mending loos. Anything can happen and it usually does.

Speaking from the splendour of the Arun valley reserve, Tim shares some of his favourite experiences.

I love that I get to dip my toe into everything. I get to help orchestrate it all. Everything on the reserve has to be awesome. And we want people to come here and want to come back. We want people to leave thinking ‘that is so much more than a pond’.

I worked at the National Trust and Kew Gardens. I’ve always enjoyed the people element of this job. The theme is that there is something really exciting for people to engage with. You look out the window and go ‘wow’. 12 Months of the year, even if it’s lashing down, the view from the Centre sets you up for the day, every day.

Some of our collection are ridiculously rare. Take our scaly-sided mergansers – we’re the first in the UK to breed those in captivity. We don’t keep our birds for ornamental purposes, it’s about studying them and saving species, as a result.

At the end of the day my job is to oil the wheels of everyone else’s teams. I fix loos, I mend gates - I wear lots of different hats. About three months in, one of our white-headed ducks, Louie, who is on the ‘rare as could be’ list and named because he hatched in the same week as Prince Louie, had to be driven to Slimbridge where there are bigger facilities for fledging. So I had to transport this mobile hatchery and he’s chirping away. I’ve never driven so carefully in my life. No two days are the same. It’s always exciting.

We, WWT, are incredibly skilled and confident at what we do here. I think we should be very proud of our work. We are not the biggest charity in the world but the passion is incredible.

If you watch the news, there’s a lot of doom and gloom, but we have a really positive message. You can make a difference. It’s not complicated. It could be as simple as just making some changes to your guttering. It’s part of our journey as a Trust that we can say to people ‘it’s this easy’. There’s more to wetlands than birds, there’s all the other creatures they help sustain. They helps us! Being by wetlands helps our wellbeing. Our Centres give people the green and the blue. Wetlands are magnificent and we want people to know that.

When you’re duty manager you have to walk around the grounds at the end of the day to make sure the site is empty. It’s not the toughest part of the day. It’s very special. I think everyone who works for the Trust gets that same feeling when they walk around their reserve.

I hadn’t appreciated before I came here how wetlands really do underpin everything. You’ve got biodiversity, you’ve got the flora, you’ve got reed beds cleaning the water, and you’ve got flood protection. They regulate our planet. If we sort out the wetlands, the world will be in a much better position. Rainforests may be classed as the lungs of the planet, but wetlands are the blood system.

It’s a really exciting time to be involved with the Trust. We’ve evolved so much and our reach is right around the globe.

Our supporters mean everything to us. They are so important. Someone’s visit can pay for a week of duck food. Thank you very much! The generosity we get from players of People’s Postcode Lottery allows us dream a little bigger, go that extra mile. They help us tell the whole story.

When I first started here my favourite wetland animal was the crested grebe because when I was seven it was the first bird I identified from my book. But since then I have discovered the eider, or what I call the Frankie Howard bird. Whenever you walk past them, I defy anyone not to laugh. It’s just wonderful, especially when they are all firing off to each other. I am a big fan.

I’m very lucky. I never have that Monday morning feeling.

I’m not a birder. I love birds but I am not an ornithologist. The team here have been gently educating me. I got really struck by the cormorants. They’re fantastic under water - great animals. But it was tipping it down and I saw this one cormorant drying its wings in the rain. Evolution just gave up on them at one point and thought ‘you have everything you need, just crack on with it’ and they do.

Ducks don’t like heavy rain. They need shelter. Not even ducks like our weather.

I am surrounded by experts. If it grows or moves, Paul Stevens, our Reserve Manager, knows what it is. If it’s got wings, Sam Halpin, our Collections Manager, knows what it is.

We have to make a difference. That’s what we’re all here for.

ENDS.