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Beat The Beast Challenge

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Today has seen a wonderful message of encouragement, 6.68 miles cycled, 10s of people met, many young minds engaged, a young man reassured and some promises of further opportunities to be explored.

This morning after I rose I conducted morning prayer like a mini service at my keyboard playing some of the organ tunes I had learned in an effort to continue to train the healthy left side of the brain to take over the cognitive and motor function from the diseased right. It went reasonably well but then as I hit the final and more complicated tune that I had properly learned it all went horribly wrong. I just could not get the brain to get the fingers to do what I wanted them to do. I could feel the frustration building so I stopped for breakfast and as I did decided to check my mobile for any messages or any responses to yesterday’s post. There was nothing. I knew that there wouldn’t be because it was posted so late but I was still disappointed and finished breakfast feeling a little deflated but I had another day at Blair Drummond today so knocked up my packed lunch and left the flat hoping for inspiration.

I jumped on the bike and cycled back in through the beautiful Blair Drummond estate along the river Teith for the second day of the vulture awareness weekend. I was volunteering again at the Blair Drummond Safari park and was hoping for another bumper day. I was met by the same warm smiles and welcome as before but was then also met with an apology. The birds were getting feisty yesterday as they waited for me to finish introducing the challenge and that meant that Snatch the white tailed sea eagle who was flown in the afternoon show decided not to come back until 6;30pm. Clearly this wasn’t good for the birds or the poor falconry team who had to chase around the loch to keep a track of him until he returned. My addition to the demonstration also meant that they were over running. So they just couldn’t have me doing the intro at the start. Would I mind doing it at the end instead. I had never expected to have such an opportunity to introduce the challenge to so many people in the first place. I had purely come to do a day’s work as a volunteer and raise awareness of the plight of the vulture. So I wasn’t in the slightest bit upset. In fact it also meant that I could take a seat and relax to watch the demonstration and enjoy seeing these fine birds in action so close up to me as they flew the different birds through the day. The dazzling dive bombing flight of a Peregrine Falcon chasing a lure, the comical Burrowing Owl running around after it’s falconer and the enormous Griffon Vulture swooping so low over the crowd that the cries and nervous giggles of fear and excitement, as the crowd ducked to allow the Vulture to swoop over their heads, clearly audible before I then hightailed it up to the touch table to chat too and try and engage young minds further in conservation after each show. Sadly each show over ran so I didn’t get an opportunity to introduce the challenge to the large captive audience but I wasn’t in the slightest bit worried because at the end of each show the team gave a wonderful introduction for me before asking the spectators to come and see me at the touch table for a chat. While not quite as affective as having a captive audience it did allow me the opportunity to do what is always a joy to achieve and that is engage young minds in conservation. The education team had provided a table full of what at first seemed like random objects but were in fact neatly connected allowing me to engage the children in the senseless wastefulness of poaching and the smuggling of animal skins by using the witch doctor’s prop, the giraffe tail, and the table cover, a zebra skin, and a most revolting and ineffective pain killer and aphrodisiac made out of a Copper Headed Cobra and scorpions pickled in a sort of vinegar oil. It stank but was fascinating to look at the snake and scorpion through the bottle. I was also able to teach them about the way that feather’s evolved to support different needs and types of flight by using feather’s from the Peacock’s tail feather built to woo, to the Ostrich feathers built for lightness for running, before finishing with the Peregrine Falcon wing built for speed and the Tawny Owl wing built for manoeuvrability and stealth. The children amazed me with their knowledge and I got such pleasure from being able to captivate their minds with a few tactile objects and stories told using the objects to help paint the picture in the story that helped to explain the concepts I was attempting to explain. Once I had finished talking the children would often want to touch and feel the objects I had been using, and that was my opportunity to introduce the challenge to the parents. They were always so receptive, partly I imagine, because I had gone to so much effort to engage their children, but also perhaps because of the wonderful introduction I had been so kindly given, but it meant that I was able to raise awareness of the challenge to another 50 people at least during the day.

The final flying demonstration was going to be snatch the eagle who was such a naughty eagle yesterday. I was stood by as a time filler should Snatch abscond again and he did, but only briefly but for long enough that it meant that again I was unable to give my talk. But again the team played a blinder. The Second in Command of the team, affectionately known as badger brought the eagle up to stand for photos and as a small crowd of about 15 gathered to take photos I was invited to talk to them about the challenge. The taking of photos stopped. As I started talking all eyes looked in on me and as I mentioned the Cholesteatoma I spotted an immediate reaction from a Mum in the audience. I continued on about the tumour and my drive to live life to Beat the Beast while helping to improve the lives and life chances of so many more people before giving a final plug about the importance of the vulture and why I was at the Safari Park today. That warfare and poverty strips the very heart out of an ecosystem and it is those very systems that are so important for our future survival. So the World Wide Fund for nature was one of my charities because like the British Red Cross, Cancer Research UK, Help for Heroes and the Princes’ Trust the WWF was also focused on helping people. Because by helping the communities local to an ecosystem see the importance of that ecosystem to their very survival, while finding and teaching ways to make that ecosystem beneficial to them in sustainable ways, they were in fact improving the lives and life chances of the population while at the same time protecting the ecosystem and the wildlife that exists within it. The vulture was the classic case in point. Poaching for the vulture brains (meant to allow someone who eats them to see into the future!) as well as the poisoning of poached carcasses to prevent the vultures circling overhead and giving away the location of the poached beast to the park rangers, as well as the increased use in veterinary science of an anti-inflammatory that is lethal to vultures so is killing them in large numbers as they feed on the abandoned carcasses of domestic livestock, as well as the deaths caused by collisions with domestic powerlines springing up as communities developed has led to a catastrophic crash in the numbers of vultures. So what? I hear you cry. ‘They are dirty and ugly creatures.’ Well they are not perhaps the most handsome of birds but the more one gets to learn about them the more one grows to be astonished by the brilliance of God’s creation. The vulture is the bin man of the wild. Where rubbish collection fails in cities so disease becomes rife. In the underdeveloped parts of Africa and Asia where sanitation common to developed areas simply does not exist the culture lends to the leaving of dead livestock for cleaning up by the vultures. Where vulture numbers have plummeted so the spread of vicious diseases lethal to the local populations is rising. The vulture is a critical component of the ecosystem on which our very survival relies hence the reason for the vulture awareness weekend. I finished with my usual line you have all heard about pouring a glass of wine and watching a video before thanking them for listening and handing out my last remaining fliers. I then turned to the Mum who had so reacted to the detail on the Cholesteatoma and found out that her young son was having quite a tough time with a Cholesteatoma in his ear that had also grown deep and had required a number of operations to try and fix. I felt for him and realised that I was not here this day to try and inspire him. He was clearly a courageous young man and he spoke to me so confidently with a real determination in his eyes. He was well supported by Mum and Dad so had all the inspiration he needed. But I also sensed that he was tired. So I should encourage him and reassure him that he will beat this particular beast and beat it soon. I was a living and breathing and most importantly hearing and walking example of how it could be beaten. He seemed to relax a little as I attempted to reassure him and certainly I was hugely pleased to have had the opportunity to do so. He will be absolutely fine. I am sure of it and I very much hope that he keeps me posted.

That was the day over so after handshakes and farewells I went back to help tidy up. First item on the agenda was a well-earned cup of tea for the wonderful and hard working bird of prey team and as I sat listening to the team chatting away I reflected on how much I had learned during the weekend from this great team, so passionate about their work and the birds they care so deeply for. I reflected on the wonderful privilege to be able to meet and spend time talking too and learning from the extraordinary Jimmy Robinson who helps run Vulture Conservation.co.uk and paraglides with vultures to teach rescued and hand reared vultures how to fly. His story and that of the founder of vulture conservation.co.uk was truly inspirational and one that demonstrates what can be achieved with a passion, some determination and a lot of hard work. I then checked my phone for any emails or messages. I couldn’t really action anything as I was sat with the team but wanted to quickly check that there was nothing urgent. There wasn’t but I had received a wonderful message from Kerry Walker. I tucked my phone away and with a smile on my face listened some more to the team. They were chatting and musing over some of the best moments of the day and while they did so I helped count some of the money raised for vulture conservation. My touch table had raised £112.41p. The other tables from the day had raised even more and over the weekend, with auctions and charity head and beard trimming as well as the raffling of the opportunity to help release Snatch the Eagle for the afternoon show as well as locking the boss Neil in a cargo crate for the best part of two days while charging children 50p a go to throw water balloons at him we had raised a few thousand pounds for vulture conservation. This was hugely encouraging and made for a really pleasant end to a brilliant weekend with such a fabulous, fun, welcoming and supportive team. Before I left Neil expressed his desire to organise a few auctions through the challenge website of extra special falconry type experience days in support of the challenge. He and his team could not have been more supportive of me and the challenge and were clearly determined to try and do more if it was at all possible. I was hugely humbled by their wonderful comments and support offered so with the wonderful encouragement from this great team I cycled back to the flat along the river Teith through the delightful Blair Drummond estate with a huge grin on my face and a determination to carry on for as long as ever I can and as I did so Kerry’s wonderfully encouraging message played over and over again in my mind.

‘My family and I attended one of the shows yesterday and were very inspired by your story. My mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour when I was only 6 months old. She battled the disease for 5 years and thankfully she did beat it. The tumour has left its scars and she has had some struggles resulting from it but she is here and we are grateful for every day we have had her with us. I am 36 now and have 4 children of my own who have also been blessed to know their granny. I just wanted to say I think you are doing an amazing job staying focused on the positive and raising so much awareness at the same time as creating a legacy for your children. My family and I wish you all the very best and will be following and sharing your beat the beast challenge. Keep going Archie!!! ☺’

Thank you Kerry. Your message has truly encouraged me. Thank you and may God continue to hold you all in the palm of his hand.

Thank you Neil and the amazing Bird of Prey Team at the Blair Drummond Safari Park for your warm welcome, shared passion and determination to support my challenge. Your support has truly encouraged me and I have learned such a lot from you all.

Thank you Jimmy Robinson for hearing my story and then telling me yours. Wow. Truly inspiring.

Thank you Amy at the education department for making it all possible.

Yours aye

Archie
BtB!