Wetland Diaries by Ajay Tegala

3 days ago 5

My enormous thanks to Ajay Tegala for sending me a copy of his new book Wetland Diaries: Ranger Life and Rewilding of Wicken Fen. I was supposed to be interviewing Ajay with Lev Parikian at the Deepings Literary Festival on Sunday 5th May but was devastated when I was hit by Covid and couldn’t make any of the festival sessions. I was, however, able to send across my questions to Kelham Cooke who stood in for me and, I’m told, did a brilliant job. At least I’ve been able to read Wetland Diaries by way of compensation and I’m delighted to share my review today.

Wetland Diaries was published by The History Press on 2nd May 2024 and is available for purchase here.

Wetland Diaries

‘Ajay’s passion for conservation and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Wicken Fen ooze out of every single page’ – Iolo Williams

Tucked away in the flat lands of rural East Anglia lies Wicken Fen, so loved for its big skies and tiny creatures, boasting over 9,000 recorded species. For 125 years, this wildlife sanctuary has been cared for by the National Trust. A dedicated team look after this precious wetland of international importance, working with herds of free-roaming horses and cattle and weathering the elements to cope creatively with the dramas of a life outdoors at the cutting edge of conservation.

Wetland Diaries is a seasonal account of ranger life on Wicken Fen, saving a once widespread landscape and revealing the spectrum of emotions experienced in the process. Ajay shares the spirit and atmosphere of the Fens, offering an insight into the privileges and pressures of managing semi-wild animals in one of the country’s first wetland restoration projects, creating precious breathing space for nature and people alike.

My Review of Wetland Diaries

An account of the life of ranger Ajay Tegala at Wicken Fen.

Now, I might be biased because I live quite close to Wicken Fen, this book has references to the Deeping area where I live and Ajay Tegala grew up in the next street along from my home, just beyond the small primary school, but I absolutely loved Wetland Diaries. It’s written with such honesty and compassion, mixed with humour and knowledge, so that I think I fell a little bit in love with the author and his dog Oakley.

Wetland Diaries is carefully illustrated with photographs, line drawings and an iterative cattle image. Initially I wished some of these aspects had been presented in colour but grew to understand that the black and white nature reflects to perfection the starkness of the landscape, the occasional harshness of life at Wicken Fen and the ethereal quality of fenland countryside. I went from a hesitancy about the images to feeling they were quite wonderful. I also thoroughly appreciated the bibliography and appendices as they add to the sense of authority and authenticity present throughout Wetland Diaries.

The text is smashing. The author’s first person tone is warm, accessible and conversational and Ajay Tegala incorporates everything from facts to the supernatural in a diffident, thoroughly engaging and often simultaneously poetic and pragmatic style. Reading Wetland Diaries feels as if the author is chatting personally with the reader, confiding all manner of things from the pressures of being part of the television Springwatch team to the potentially unsettling effect a phallic shaped Shiva Lingam stone might have on an unruly cockerel. Indeed, when chapter subheadings contain everything from a first day as a ranger through dung sampling to vasectomies there’s a real sense of the eclectic nature of Wetland Diaries.

And it is the natural world that glues this book together. There’s everything here from flora to fauna, climate change to animal husbandry, weather to walking, in a glorious celebration and appreciation of nature. It’s no exaggeration to say that reading Wetland Diaries has changed my life. Prior to this book, when asked where I come from I would usually reply, ‘Nowhere. Just flat, boring fenland.’ Now, I have an enlightened understanding of what a diverse and important area I live in. As Wicken Fen, the setting for the majority of the book, celebrates its 125th birthday, Ajay Tegala has written it a passionate love letter – but a love letter that encompasses and includes us all.

Wetland Diaries is a triumph. It’s engaging. It’s educational. It’s entertaining. It is also the kind of book that makes the reader feel as if the world has not gone to Hell in a handcart after all, but rather is filled with a varied and important natural world and wonderful people – like the author –  who care about it. I found Wetland Diaries uplifting, hopeful, witty and warm. I loved it.

About Ajay

Ajay Tegala is a Wildlife Presenter, Conservationist, Countryside Ranger, Naturalist, Author and Voice-Over Artist. He has a degree in Environmental Conservation and has worked in nature conservation for over a decade. A natural communicator, his enthusiasm is infectious.

He presented BBC Two’s groundbreaking documentary ‘Inside the Bat Cave’ (BBC Two, 2020) alongside Lucy Cooke, sharing his passion for bats, citizen science and public engagement. His five-minute ‘Springwatch’ 2021 film about the comeback of the common crane received fantastic reviews.

Ajay has chalked-up well over 20 television appearances across the five main channels, including the popular BBC nature programmes ‘Countryfile’, ‘Coast’, ‘Winterwatch’ and a live appearance on ‘Springwatch: Unsprung’ alongside Chris Packham and Will Young. He also featured on ‘Walking Through History’ with Tony Robinson for Channel Four. Ajay took part in the BBC animal quiz show hosted by Kate Humble, ‘Curious Creatures’, appearing on a winning team with Chris Packham. He also took on the BBC ‘Celebrity Eggheads’ as part of a science team, winning his head-to-head round.

Ajay is a regular contributor on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s ‘Wildlife Wednesdays’, complimenting his own #WildWednesday TikTok videos. Other radio appearances include ‘Living World’ and Clare Balding’s popular ‘Ramblings’ (both Radio Four).

As a Countryside Ranger, Ajay has earned respect as the ranger on Britain’s first coastal reserve, Blakeney Point in north Norfolk. This is the subject of his first book, which gives an insight into his unique experiences protecting seabirds and seals on a remote stretch of England’s east coast. Ajay has previously worked as reserve manager at Lindisfarne in Northumberland and currently works at Wicken Fen, Britain’s very first nature reserve, alongside 100 Konik ponies and 50 Highland cattle.

Growing up in the East Anglian Fens, Ajay became interested in wetland birds. As a teenager, he volunteered at his local nature reserves, which inspired him to follow a career in nature conservation. Through his career, Ajay went on to work with seabirds, in particular terns; studying their breeding behaviour and contributing to national monitoring programmes. He has also studied wildflowers and seals; managing England’s largest Grey Seal rookery during a period of rapid population growth.

In his spare time, Ajay conducts wildlife surveys on farmland in the Norfolk Broads, championing and monitoring the success of habitat creation for nature on farms.

For further information follow Ajay o Twitter/X @AjayTegala, find him on Facebook and Instagram and be sure to watch Ajay on TikTok and YouTube.

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