As far as you can go – Eddy Duff

The National Trust were the primary agency looking after the conservation of the Wirebird.  There were programmes to maintain the habitats as best as possible, stop the encroachment of non-grassy vegetation in or restrict development or the wrong types of agriculture.  They also had a breeding and monitoring programme.  The guy who ran this programme was one of the characters of St Helena.  Gavin Ellick was his real name but nobody every called him that and he laughed every time I said the name Gavin.  Eddy Duff was his nom du guerre.  He was the only Rasta on island.  He wore huge dreadlocks and talked in a mixture of the St Helena dialect and Jamaican terminology.  He lived his life outside the norms and was seen by many as a rebel.  But over time I detected a keen intellect and wide reading.  He introduced Edsel and me to some of his wirebirds one day.  We drove deep into the woods in the south west of the island and emerged at Broadbottom.  This area was famous for being the location of a second prison camp during the Boer War.  During the war from 1900-02, St Helena was used to house up to 6000 prisoners.  The first camp had actually been on Deadwood Plain, but with heightened friction between those Boers from Transvaal and those from the Orange Free State, the latter were moved to Broadbottom.

Eddy had such a strong bond with the wirebirds, they trusted him so perfectly.  It was a huge privilege to stalk across Broadbottom just a couple steps behind him.  Positioning ourselves so we were slightly obscured by Eddy’s tall gangly body he was able to get us within a few steps of a wirebird on her nest.  When so close the differences from other lapwings was obvious; the wirebird was thinner and longer legged, and its colorations more speckled.

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Eddie playing deck cricket on the RMS

Eddy was a tough nut to crack with our own work as he was more keen on being in the field than chained to a computer, but we managed to make some progress over the visits.  He just needed a simple database to monitor the number of pairs of birds, the eggs and chicks, and a map showing all the potential habitats.  We did see the odd wirebird in unfamiliar locations where there was tree cover or in settlements, but the grassy plains were essential for the breeding programme.

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