It is just over a year ago now that I was supposed to begin my new job in Bwabwata National Park in Namibia. For many of us, March 2020 wasn’t a good month to see things going as planned, and I was no exception. What was supposed to have been a quick trip back to Somerset to visit my parents proved a much longer stay. In March 2021, I am still very much not on the African savannah.

The pandemic has forced us all towards changes both welcome and unwelcome. It forced me home after over a decade working overseas. However, I have discovered there has been much to cherish in coming home, and getting reacquainted with the local wildlife has been one of those delights. However, it has required me to recalibrate my expectations: when I began volunteering at RSPB West Sedgemoor the Assistant Warden described it as a ‘big’ reserve at nearly four square miles. In 2019 I had been guiding in the Kavango Zambesi Transfrontier Conservation Area, a patchwork of different protected areas in excess of two hundred thousand square miles! And while I keep an eye out for lions and leopards while out and about on reserve, the largest beast I’ve had to contend with so far is a roe deer. Luckily, I survived the encounter.

James standing next to jeep on the African savannah.

 James Conder

One highlight of being back after such a long absence has been seeing the progress our efforts at conservation, reintroduction and habitat creation have made. Across the course of a day working on RSPB West Sedgemoor I can hear the bugle of the cranes, the boom of a bittern, see the characteristic silhouette of a marsh harrier put a flock of ducks into the air and the poised white figures of the great egrets waiting at the water’s edge. None of these would have been likely experiences when I was birding the Levels as a young lad in the Nineties.

I’m not the only one to come from the savannah to Sedgemoor. We saw our first swallows this week. It’s not inconceivable that one of those same birds flitted past me in the winter of 2019, perhaps as I sat in the driver’s seat of a safari vehicle, maybe interpreting the behaviour of a drinking herd of elephants to my guests. It’s reassuring to know that these little pieces of Africa can still come and visit me in Somerset. But across the last twelve months, it has been even better to realise that nature never loses its ability to intrigue you in any moment, to comfort you in any place and to awe you on whatever scale.


Our Visitor Experience Manager, Abbie, has asked that I share the following reminder with you:

 With #Easter #BankHoliday here, a reminder that the following facilities at Greylake and Swell Wood are OPEN for local exercise and recreation 

  • Car parks (Dawn – Dusk)
  • Nature reserve trails (Dawn - Dusk)

The following facilities are still CLOSED in line with Government guidance: 


We love hearing how Greylake and Swell Wood brings you enjoyment and solace in these challenging times and want you to be able to enjoy your visit here safely:

 We can’t wait to welcome everyone back soon, but until then, we ask that you continue to follow the guidance around non-essential travel and please #staylocal to your nearest nature reserves and green spaces. 

 Please follow all current Government guidance around face coverings, social distancing, group sizes, hygiene and follow all signage on-site.

 If you’re not local or can’t visit at the moment we will continue to bring you exciting updates and images of the reserve, until you can return to visit us again. Thank you for your support and patience. 

For the latest RSPB Covid-19 updates please visit: