Bill 'Mr Stanage' Gordon awarded a BEM

Posted by Peter Burnside on 07/07/2017
Bill Gordon receives Royal recognition for his extraordinary conservation work. Photo: Niall Grimes

The face of Stanage, Bill Gordon, was awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen's birthday honours list for services to Wildlife, particularly the Protection of the Ring Ouzel.

You might recognise Bill Gordon; he's often found hanging around the Peak District and particularly Stanage, where he works. Bill is the National Park Ranger for the North Lees Estate, and the person who runs the campsite for our beloved crag. His passion for the outdoors and conservation over the years are clear to all those that know him, as he's been helping to look after the area for more than 37 years.
 
Aside from running the North Lees campsite, the popular place to bed down after a day out and about for climbers and walkers, Bill has also championed the conservation of the ring ouzel, a less well known and rare bird. Across the UK, the ring ouzel is in decline. But thank's to Bill's incredible efforts in finding their nests to protect them, and encouraging climbers and walkers to avoid these areas until the chicks fledge, ring ouzels are actually thriving in Stanage.
 
To acknowledge his services to Wildlife, particularly the protection of the ring ouzel, Bill was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen's birthday honours list.

Lesley Roberts, chair of the Peak District National Park, said: “We’re absolutely delighted that Bill’s work has been recognised in this way. It’s a fitting tribute to the effort he has put in to looking after these birds and helping visitors understand how they can contribute to their care. He’s given over and above what is normally expected, often being out at dawn to trace where the birds have nested. We add our many congratulations and thanks to Bill – our ring ouzel champion – for his extraordinary dedication.”

Other BMC volunteers who played a key role in helping to protect the ring ouzel, a red data listed bird, are Adam Long, Henry Folkard, Louise Hawson and Kim Leyland, joined Bill and his wife Flo Gordon along with friends from the RSPB and Eastern Moors Partnership at Stanage, on the afternoon of the announcement, for a quiet celebration. 

Commenting on the award on Twitter, Bill said: “Thank you everyone for their best wishes. It is a BEM which I am proud of, but it should be shared with Flo.”

An interview with Bill Gordon

Bill studied fine art, including three years as an MA in the London’s Royal College of Art. This led to a teaching post in Sheffield, after which he was given a position as an assistant dry-stone waller for the National Park in 1980. In 1983 he took over as the tenant of North Lees, where he’s remained ever since. He retires later this year.

I’m sixty four and I still clean toilets. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t still have to do that, but it’s part of people’s experience of being here.

I studied art at the Royal College of Art from 1976 to 1979. It was the Punk era and we lodged just off the Kings Road so we got to see what was going on. It was anarchy. It was political. It was a revolution and it was pushing at the boundaries all the time, and I loved it.

It’s been a privilege to look after such an iconic piece of landscape as Stanage. I think I’ve done alright for it.

Age makes you rethink lots of things that you once took for granted. There’s more that I don’t know now than I thought I knew when I was 45.

I don’t have a big ego. I prefer to work quietly in the background and get things done.

I like the climbing fraternity because it has an element of anarchy. That’s anarchy as a philosophical concept. Anarchy isn’t getting drunk and playing loud music; anarchy is self-respect and respect for others. The campsite is an example of that, and it levels out people who can cope with anarchy.

For me, it’s all about sharing. That’s what I have tried to do: share the crag, share the campsite. I’m here to welcome you whoever you are or whatever you look like.

WATCH: Steve McClure: don't take crag access for granted on BMC TV

I love Twitter. I love having the opportunity to be able to share what I observe, the detail, the sounds.

I walk this landscape every day. I follow the same tracks and I know virtually every footprint. And in looking for the same thing every day I keep seeing new things. It’s always different – the birdsong, a fern, the colour in a rock. I see the small detail of the land and I can see everything in it.

I got very interested in Daoism, and particular a thing called Quietism. How to get into the birdcage without the bird singing. How to get into a position where your presence doesn’t cause alarm. How to walk this landscape without having any negative impact on it.

The ring ouzel became a metaphor for wilderness. The landscape was becoming urbanised – pay-and-display meters, parking restrictions, bus stops – then along came this bird whose habitat was wilderness. If the ring ouzel could survive at Stanage then it must be wilderness. So the ring ouzel became a hugely important issue; it had to prosper.

Up until three or four thousand years ago, Stanage would have been forested. Oak, Hazels, Hollies, Alders. Robin Hood’s Cave wouldn’t have stood out. A squirrel could go from coast to coast and not touch the ground. There would have been communities living up there. There are Neolithic barrow caves under Crow Chin. There were periods of conflict in the land and people would have come to places like this to get away from it all.

If we are serious about our uplands then there needs to be change. We have cut down all the trees; we have heather fires; we shoot the grouse. There should be a reversal. We need to get the scrub back again.

The National Park Authority has done a great job under tremendous pressure, but sometimes I feel it loses its way a bit. This is why partnerships are so important. Partners like the BMC, who should have an enormous input into the National Park and its decisions.

The highpoint of visitors to Stanage was the mid-1990s. On Valentine’s Day 1997, there were 600 cars parked around Stanage. These days there are about half the number of climbers along Stanage as there was then.

Climbers own Stanage, in an emotional sense. That informs how I go about my role.

WATCH: What does the BMC do for hill walkers? on BMC TV


We want to say a big thanks to every BMC member who continues to support us through the Coronavirus crisis.

From weekly Facebook Lives and GB Climbing home training videos, to our access team working to re-open the crags and fight for your mountain access, we couldn’t do it without you.

Did you know that we've just launched a new U27 membership offer for just £1 / month? And with full membership from £1.66 / month, it's never been easier to join and support our work: 

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/join-the-bmc-for-1-month-U27-membership


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