Jan 17 2013 by Rob Pattinson, Ormskirk Advertiser
HE has spent his entire working life at Martin Mere, helping create and develop wildlife habitats across the 600 acre site over four decades.
But in April, Andy Wooldridge will finally spread his wings and walk away from the job he began as a schoolboy volunteer – and departs as the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) site’s centre manager.
Reflecting on a career that saw him learn from two of the country’s greatest wildlife enthusiasts, meet his future wife Jean, and leave a lasting legacy for his successor, Andy told the Advertiser of his pride in doing the “dream job” that he always loved.
“When I started there were only four of us. There are nearly 50 working here now. It’s known as the jewel in the crown of West Lancashire and that’s fitting,” he said.
“I’m proud of our strong working relationship with local people, that’s one thing I’m passionate about. ‘I’ve always loved the outdoors and wildfowl and I want the community to be proud of Martin Mere.”
Andy was 14 when he read in the Lancashire Evening Post about plans to set up a new nature reserve in Burscough. His dad gave him a lift from his home in Longton to a meeting with Peter Gladstone, the great-grandson of Prime Minister William Gladstone, who had been employed by WWT founder Sir Peter Scott to set up a new site at Martin Mere. Initially volunteering at weekends and in the Summer holidays, Andy went straight into a permanent job at the site when he left school at 16 in 1973.
He said: “Peter Gladstone and Sir Peter Scott did my induction – we went out on the marsh and I was asked questions about birds and plants. Nothing like a normal interview in a suit! It was a dream job really. What I took from them was that anything was possible – no job was too big. It had been agricultural land and never really been cultivated. The first two years were really exciting – to be right there at the beginning, working off a blank canvas of 360 acres, digging the ponds, creating the waterways.
“ I was very fortunate to be there when it was being created and being part of that. I was learning from experts.”
Andy began his career as a trainee warden, working his way up to senior warden before spending 25 years as grounds manager. For the last five years he has been centre manager, and it was a role that took some adjustment.
He said: “The last five years been very challenging – going from working on the grounds to managing people.”
During his time in charge, Andy helped develop visitor attractions, like the canoe safari, Mere Side Cafe and £250,000 adventure play area.
And he is also proud of leading on a bid that led to the trust spending £1m on purchasing an extra 72 acres of land to expand the site’s wildlife habitats in 2011.
“I had to work very hard to convince the trust it was a good purchase,” he said.
“There are lots of endangered species, captive and wild, that it will create habitat for. It’s about displaying the natural environment and driving home the key message about the importance of saving wildlife.”
Another big boost for the centre was when BBC wildlife show Autumnwatch filmed there over two years.
Andy said: “If you get on television people get interested, and it’s about tapping into that and looking to educate people about the environment.”
Andy is also keen to recognise the “huge part” played by volunteers – he said the centre would be lost without them.
And looking forward, he said: “I believe I have taken it to a level where it is now time to hand over. We’ve gone from 360 acres to more than 600, and visitors can now come and spend a full day here and not do it all. The future here is excellent. There’s a great bunch of people working here and the new person will have a superb team.”