Ray Marsh retires after 60 years

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It was back in the 1950s that Ray Marsh and his wife, Rose, first came across Skippers Island, which sits in the Walton Backwaters, in north-east Essex.

They stopped for a picnic with their young children, watching the saltmarsh and the tide come and go. In his book, Skippers Island: The Island Bug (2015), Ray wrote: “Little did I know that this would be the start of an island love affair that would carry on for the rest of my life.”

Ray has been volunteer warden on Skippers Island since 5 May 1989, working tirelessly to look after the island and its wildlife. In the early days, Ray kept poachers away, planted native trees on Lodge Island, and grappled with sea defences, building and repairing seawall revetments to protect the fragile habitats from the sea. Ray has recorded a host of flora and fauna over the years, arguably the most notable of which is the rare Fisher’s Estuarine Moth, first noticed there in 1968 and identified by Ray’s friend, Ben Fisher.

Getting to and from the island is no easy task. It involves a challenging walk across the causeway at low tide or a boat trip, usually an arm-aching row, across the creek, battling wind and tide. A conservative estimate is that Ray has rowed across 10,000 times – an amazing testament to his physical toughness and dedication!

Despite his love of the island still as strong as ever, Ray has decided that summer 2019 will be his last as Essex Wildlife Trust’s warden and he officially retired on 19th September. He is very proud to have shared his knowledge with so many visitors over the years.

As Ray crossed the last bridge and climbed up the seawall on a conservation visit in June, Ray turned and said: “I’m really going to miss this place.”

Dave Smart, Head of Landscape Conservation at Essex Wildlife Trust, says “Ray’s support and knowledge have been invaluable since he joined us as the first Volunteer Warden of Skipper’s Island. On behalf of Essex Wildlife Trust, I would like to relay a heartfelt thank you to Ray for his unswerving support, dedication and passion – in rain and shine, all year round for sixty years – for the benefit of this wonderful wildlife haven in the Hamford Water.”

In October 2019 Ray was awarded the ‘Ray Marsh award’, a new award Essex Wildlife Trust has introduced which will be given to an outstanding volunteer each year.

Ray Marsh

Photo: Daniel Bridge