This is one of those blogs that I hate having to write. It is with great sadness that we heard this weekend of the passing of Stan Pyke, one of Minsmere's many fabulous volunteers.

Stan joined the team eight years ago, and quickly became a popular character around the reserve. He was always ready with a joke and a smile, was happy to get involved in a variety of different tasks, and regularly chatted about his work to visitors, staff and fellow volunteers.

Stan and George helping to clear the pond of encroaching reeds

I remember first meeting Stan about 10 years ago, when he was part of what we called "The Saturday Club." This was a small group of regular visitors who spent every Saturday morning in Bittern Hide, often from dawn, before coming to the cafe for breakfast at about 10 am. They were great at updating us about sightings of Bitterns, Kingfishers or Marsh Harriers, but usually found something to complain about - such as the Kingfishers choosing to perch too far away for a photo! Then, about eight years ago I interviewed Stan when he applied to volunteer. Initially I planned to ask Stan to become a guide, but it quickly became obvious that he would prefer a hand's-on role as part of the habitat management team.

Stan's enthusiasm was infectious, and it wasn't long before one day a week became two, then three, then four. In fact, at times I wondered whether he actually went home between volunteering shifts. He also seemed to turn his hand to anything. One day he'd be repairing fences, the next he might be up to his waist in the reedbed. At other times he'd sit patiently scanning the reeds as part of the weekly Bittern nest monitoring, or surveying for Nightjars on a summer evening, but one of his favourite tasks was the daily checks of our livestock. In fact, the Konik Polski and Exmoor ponies probably loved Stan even more than we did, especially when he rattled the bucket of food!

Stan in his favourite spot, feeding the ponies

Stan was an excellent mentor to some of our younger volunteers, especially our Intern, Laura, and I think her tribute says everything that needs to be said. "Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I will never forget you or all the happy memories I had spending time with you at Minsmere, checking on/chasing after the ponies, putting up fences, surveying for Bitterns and Nightjars, all the chats we’d have when you gave me a lift into work, or on work parties cutting down birch or burning piles of reed, you taught me so much and I will treasure the memories in my heart forever. You fought so hard for so long and I will miss you terribly but you can finally rest in peace now,  I know you’re probably chasing herds of Koniks up there."

Stan and other volunteers clearing vegetation from the Scrape islands

My personal favourite memory of Stan was watching him leaning on his rake in front of Bittern Hide whilst the wardens and other volunteers were working hard around him. He didn't know that I was watching him from the hide! He certainly got some stick when I shared this picture on our volunteer newsletter.

Did you meet Stan? Do you have a favourite memory of him? Please share them with us.

We miss you Stan. Rest in peace.