Of all the clubs I’ve been a member of,
none has had more mystique than the Dee Wildfowlers: often heard of,
but entirely elusive to anyone not living close to the Dee. I’d
spent many years travelling around wild places including high
plateaux, Antarctica, Alaska and various unpopulated desert areas
around the world, but here, on my ‘doorstep’ was an equally
interesting wilderness of which I knew very little. I wanted to find
‘Wildfowlers’ were the only ones who dared to venture out onto the
marsh amid all the perils of wind, tide and storm spelled out in the
poem ”The Sands of Dee”. I knew less than ‘Mary’ of the poem, who is
still out there beneath the cold waters of the estuary, still
calling the cattle home. Solitary wildfowlers still hear her on the
It was more than two years as an
enthusiastic inland shooter before I met a real Dee Wildfowler. I
interrogated him mercilessly and only allowed him to depart once
he’d given me the name and address of the membership secretary.
There then followed a year or two on the waiting list without any
contact whatsoever, then probationary membership and an invitation
to go on the ‘marsh walks’.
On the first walk I remember struggling
across soggy marsh grassland
and endless ‘gutters’ trying to keep up with what appeared to be a
group of chain smoking octogenarians who all knew how to walk on mud
while I sank to the knees at every step. I lagged behind and was
horrified when after standing in the middle of the marshes by the
side of a lake they suddenly walked straight into that lake! – I
didn’t even know that most ‘flashes’ were uniformly shallow. Chris,
who led the walks, pointed to scores of identical features and
posts, all with names but not marked on any of the maps I possessed.
‘Smith’s Post’ was typical – every time I went out onto the marshes
it had been moved somewhere else! I even wrote “S P” on it with
indelible felt tipped pen and fixed its position with a series of
photographs and bearings. It still moved!
After the walks I went out a few times
by myself with the best GPS satellite system I could find. I made
some maps and Chris corrected them! Smith’s post still moved but
everything else stayed put and my confidence grew. The first time
out with a gun in the night changed all that………
Kneeling in the mud at Taylor’s
in the dark before dawn, various shadows, flashed past. (they all
looked like bats to me!) John made strange whistles
and encouraging remarks such as: -
“ SHOOT!” “SHOOT!” “SHOOT!”…….
“DON’T SHOOT!” “DON’T SHOOT! “ “DON’T
“WAIT UNTIL IT LANDS ON THE WATER!”……I
Out with Chris at Powalla,
it was just as bad though not quite as muddy. We went in the
evening and some geese flew over in perfect range. Typically, my gun
was in the slip! Chris seemed amused.
I’ve now been out about 20 times and
it’s getting easier. I’ve been soaked to the skin, covered in mud,
dipped in sewage and learned how to walk miles with waders full of
water. I’ve got chest waders, waist waders, thigh waders and
wellies. There are six different marsh hats in the wardrobe;
souvenirs of learning that even a hat needs to be ‘marsh-proof’.
I’ve got four types of torch
and three different wading sticks. I’ve diligently attended all the
I’ve suffered the indignity of being chased by highland cattle,
and the deeper shame of admitting to Chris that the reason I didn’t
fire was not because I thought the duck was out of range; but that
I’d actually forgotten the safety catch was on! The same thing
happened the following week. I’m just not very good at lying about
my failings. The new
system for training probationers
has worked for me and I will thankfully avoid the trial of the
which was really a just proof of ability to memorise the rules and a
few landmarks. All sensible probationers had prepared a list of the
obvious questions and answers in advance of the test. Just how
ridiculous this seemed to many of us I can’t tell, as we
probationers have to mind our manners!
Now that there
is a published list of members prepared to take out probationers
onto the marsh; progression to full membership can be almost as fast
as the probationer wishes. I wonder if the committee really knew how
frustrating it was to be paying an annual membership for years, just
to sit and look out from the quay at Fred’s Rocks because it was
“inconvenient” for any full member to take you out shooting! How
almost demeaning to be ringing up and begging the same few people
over and over again for a trip. No wonder it took some people so
long to learn. Also, we knew that it could well be the case that
many a full membership had been achieved in the past without ever
actually going out onto the marsh! This seemed ridiculous.
The club now seems to be in good heart
to me, and this is vital, as there are interesting times to come!
Soon I’ll be a full member (one more lecture to do!) and as such it
will always be with pride
that I will speak of the club, and fully share in the preservation
of the marshland wilderness. I will make sure that my name is on
the list to help new members get out there and to answer (with due
deference to senior members!) the hundreds of questions new members
want to ask. I may even know a few answers! Everyone I take out
will be presented with a wigeon whistle made by me and we may even
shoot a few ducks!
And……last time I went out I found
Smith’s Post straight away!