David Chandler is a Trustee of A Rocha UK and a member of the Steering Group for Foxearth Meadows, our nature reserve on the Essex/Suffolk border. He has written about Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) and monitors them on the reserve. Andy Jowitt, A Rocha UK’s Volunteer Community Engagement Officer, interviewed David over the phone.
Tell us a bit about your career and how you make your living now.
Going right back to childhood, my ambition was to be a Reserve Manager. I did a zoology degree and have worked in conservation ever since graduating. For a good many years that was with the RSPB. I dabbled in research with a project on the Ouse Washes, but I am better in more people-orientated roles. My time with the RSPB straddled the YOC (Young Ornithologists Club) changing into RSPB Wild Explorers. I was involved with both, and, also based at the HQ in Sandy, with developing volunteer strategy. For 2½ years I headed up the European division of Birdlife International. I made about 35 trips around Europe in that time, a lot of them to Brussels, and spent a lot of time in airports.
Since 2005 I’ve been freelance, doing various things, some paid and some unpaid. My card says, “Writer and Wildlife Guide”. As well as writing books, I do travel writing and product write-ups – I write for Bird Watching magazine. I’ve also been developing ‘Wild Days Out’, a private guiding enterprise.
How did you first get involved in A Rocha?
That’s a bit of a long story. Going right back, my wife-to-be Ruth knew someone who knew someone who was heading off to Portugal… That happened to be Peter and Miranda Harris, the founders of A Rocha. I kept my distance. In the wider world, neither birders nor Christians always get a good press, and I was wary of the two coming together.
Then, via my sister and brother-in-law, I met Dave Bookless, who started A Rocha UK. Curiously the project he was working on (Minet Country Park) was a place I used to play in as a kid, and as a teenager I’d campaigned against a road being run through it by the GLC. Again I was wary, but God was on my case. I was at the Birdfair and got recruited on the A Rocha stand. The man who did it was Keith Morris, who started the conservation work at Foxearth Meadows.
I had a spell after 2000 when I was very ill, and recovering from that I decided I didn’t want to be tied down any more to just one job. That’s when I went to see Dave Bookless at A Rocha UK to ask what I could do to help.
What attracted you to become part of the A Rocha UK project?
There was a time when my Christian faith and my passion for wildlife were two separate parts of my life. But then I began to understand more about what the Bible says about caring for creation, and how what Jesus did on the cross is much bigger than just God’s love for people. It’s about the whole cosmos. A Rocha helped me to make that connection.
When Keith Morris passed away, I offered help to his wife Maureen, including finding a buyer for the land at Foxearth Meadows. Eventually it turned out God wanted that to be A Rocha UK. As it happened, I’d already begun to develop a serious interest in Odonata and good connections with the British Dragonfly Society. God had been preparing me.
You’ve seen the work develop at Foxearth Meadows Nature Reserve from A Rocha UK’s first involvement. What’s been the highlights for you?
I’ll mention three:
First, the official opening in May 2017. Everyone worked so hard to make it happen. We were up against it to be ready, but it all came together in the end. We exceeded our target of people coming (around 300 made it) and the day was a really good one. I still have a length of blue ribbon from the cutting ceremony above my desk.
Secondly, later that year: finding a Variable Damselfly on the reserve. That was the first in the area since 1943 and the first recorded in Essex since 1983. I haven’t seen one at Foxearth since, but suspect there are some not too far away.
Finally, a more recent memory: a visit to the reserve this year to do my dragonfly transects. Thanks to Mark and his team of volunteers, the reserve was looking really good and the place was buzzing with dragonflies.
Do you have concerns for the future and do you have any thoughts to guide our prayers and actions?
I’ll share two thoughts:
First, my concern that the churches really ‘get it’, and see care for God’s creation and for the environment as being mainstream concerns. I want it to be normal for the Church to be a spokesperson on these issues.
Secondly, it’s great to see young people with loads of passion about climate change issues, but in the next generation we need people, yes with enthusiasm, but also with real knowledge of wildlife and the skill and insight to work out the best actions for the future.
How do you like to relax?
Quality time with wildlife – just enjoying it for its own sake – and quality time with people – relaxing with friends. Oh, and a drop of single malt too.
Are your books currently in print if anyone wants to dig deeper?
Yes, some are. To mention the most recent, the RSPB spotlight on ‘Kingfishers’ was published in 2017. ‘100 Birds to See in Your Lifetime’ I co-wrote with Dominic Couzens (who is also involved in A Rocha). To my surprise the publisher wanted an updated version and that was published this year, 2019. And finally, coming out before the end of the year all being well, is ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies’ (Pisces Publications).