Jackie Gage was Devon Wildlife Trust’s much loved reserves officer for sixteen years. She came to Andrew’s Wood, supervising us in our tasks every month, accompanied by her dog Sparky. Sparky was devoted to Jackie and loved his days at Andrew’s Wood. Jackie was a good listener as well as being able to explain clearly what we were about to do. She loved wildlife and she loved people. She was there, whatever the weather and she was our leader.

One of the major tasks, is trying to keep the wild flower clearings in Andrew’s Wood from turning into woodland. Jackie led us in this work. She explained that the clearings were not only the home for the very rare heath lobelia, but for many other plants of wet grassland. She encouraged us to record and photograph the hundreds of flying, jumping and crawling insects, especially the butterflies, in the clearings. There are mats put down to attract snakes and lizards, including slow-worms; they find warmth and safety beneath the mats. To avoid unnecessary disturbance of these reptiles and to let us all share the excitement of seeing the wriggling snake or slow-worm,, she would wait until we had all come close enough to see before lifting the mat. The clearings are also the breeding-ground for ground nesting birds, like pheasants, chiffchaffs and willow warblers. In May and June Jackie would remind us to look out for the birds and avoid disturbing them.

Another of Jackie’s talents was managing engineering projects, like laying board-walks on muddy paths, with old railway sleepers, hammers, nails and wire netting. Most of our more exhausting projects have been during the winter and it was Jackie that started the tradition of baking potatoes in the fire on cold winter days just before Christmas. When the Devon Trust bought some of the fields leading down to the reserve from the car park, Jackie suggested we excavate a series of small ponds in the corner of one of them. They are near the clearing that we call Dragonfly Clearing and have added to the number of colourful dragon- and damsel-flies we see there.

Ever since we found a hibernating dormouse in a thick tussock of grass in one of the clearings and later found them nesting in some of the birds’ nest-boxes, dormice have been a special feature of our work in Andrew’s Wood. After Elaine Hurrell and Tom Maddock had taught us how to monitor the dormouse nest-boxes, Jackie became our licensed dormouse checker and introduced many of us to the wonder of seeing a dormouse sleepily opening its eyes. She taught Lineke how to handle dormice and obtain her licence. Now Lineke has taken over the role of dormouse monitor.

In August each year, Jackie gathered us to count the rare lobelia. Every year for fifty years the lobelia has been counted and usually it has been the largest population in the country. There are only five other sites where it grows. It was Jackie who found marsh orchids growing in the new fields. She suggested we should start counting them every June, when they flower. We counted them this year, almost expecting to look up and see Jackie, with Sparky, waiting to write down our numbers counted.

Last year Jackie died. We were all very sad. Some of her friends at Devon Wildlife Trust set to and made the components for an oak bench to be set up in Andrew’s Wood, which Jackie used to call “My Happy Place”. They engraved that on her bench. Recently, a group of us gathered to set up the bench in memory of Jackie and her work for the Devon Trust. The strongest of us, men and women, carried the bench down to Cuckoo Field, dug deep holes in which to mount the legs and slot in the wide oak seat. Some of us, not so strong, trimmed the surrounds and made a list of all the plants growing near Jackie’s bench.

Jackie’s ‘Happy Place’ is full of happy memories but it is a place to plan and look forward as well as to remember the past. Lineke and Claire, our new reserve officers, and we volunteers are continuing the work that Jackie did. Many others, going back to Andrew Walker, after whom the reserve is named, have enjoyed being here and plan for its future. You are welcome to come to our meetings, which are every month, at 10 o’clock on the second Thursday. On Thursday 11th July, Claire will be leading us looking at bumble-bees, showing us how to identify the different species and learn more about their lives. On 8th August we will be counting the rare heath lobelia, for the fifty-first year! Do join us.

A happy place for all of us. (Photo by Lineke Bosman.)
A happy place for all of us. (Photo by Lineke Bosman.) (A happy place for all of us. (Photo by Lineke Bosman.))
The view from Jackie’s bench. (Photo by Lineke Bosman.)
The view from Jackie’s bench. (Photo by Lineke Bosman.) (The view from Jackie’s bench. (Photo by Lineke Bosman.))
The strong members of the team, with Claire and Lineke on the left.   (Photo by Gordon Waterhouse.)
The strong members of the team, with Claire and Lineke on the left. (Photo by Gordon Waterhouse.) (The strong members of the team, with Claire and Lineke on the left. (Photo by Gordon Waterhouse.))