“I’ll go out on any day of the year,” says Phil Dykes. “It’s what I breathe.”
The 58-year-old has dedicated the past 10 years of his life to making the habitat better for hundreds of species of wildlife across East Lancashire.
One of the reserves he manages, Foxhill Bank in Oswaldtwistle, is home to up to 56 breeding species of birds and more than 200 types of plants alone.
He splits his time between it and five other sites; Salt Mill Quarry and Croft Mill Quarry, both in Clitheroe, Summerseat, near Ramsbottom, Upper Coldwell Reservoir, Nelson, and Moor Piece, near Bashall Eaves.
Assisted by a team of up to 40 volunteers each month, Phil, who has a background as a production manager in the food industry, juggles numerous hands-on projects with visits to local schools to talk about conservation and wildlife.
“At this time of year, reserve management – tending to the forestry, doing the groundwork, felling trees to open up the structure of the woods – just wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers,” he said.
“Our main project at the moment is in Clitheroe, upgrading the geology trail and clearing some vegetation to make it better for visitors.
“Winter is a big time for us. We can’t disturb nesting birds but at the same time we cut all the grass and grate it off onto the meadows.
“That’s because it’s really good for wild flowers.
“It looks really tidy at the moment and thankfully it hasn’t been too cold so far. We’ve got a lot more tree work to do in winter and then hedge-laying can begin in January.”
The breadth and variety of wildlife found in the reserves always surprises visitors, Phil said.
By the water at Foxhill Bank, mallards, coots and kingfishers can regularly be spotted on the brooks and lodges, while last month Phil had his hands full after a herd of pigs escaped from Moor Piece.
Roe deer and sika deer can be spotted in the woodlands and there have been reports that the much rarer muntjac deer has also made its way into Lancashire, something Phil and his team are keen to investigate further. He believes the proximity of the countryside to East Lancashire’s main towns and shopping areas is one of the key selling-points in attracting tourists to the area.
“When people come to Foxhill Bank, they’re always surprised that it’s only five minutes from Union Street in the middle of Oswaldtwistle.
“We get a lot of compliments about the condition of the site and the opportunity to get so close to the wildlife. I’m really proud of what we offer all year round,” he adds.
So if he gets a call about a fallen tree today on a bank holiday, what will he do?
Phil said: “I’ll be there. I’m based from home in Whalley and a lot of people have my number.
“It’s my patch. It’s a great job and it takes over your life.”|