City wildlife expert retires

John Baxter is retiring after 32 years working for Wakefield Countryside Service
John Baxter is retiring after 32 years working for Wakefield Countryside Service

IT was 30 years ago when John Baxter was the only countryside ranger for the whole of Wakefield.

And during his three decades has cared for wildlife and educated future generations about the wonders of nature.

He has received awards for his conservation work and set up country park groups.

But at the end of the month wildlife fanatic Mr Baxter will retire from his dream job after 32 years with Wakefield Countryside Service.

The father-of-two first started at Bretton Country Park in 1979.

Mr Baxter, 58, said: “There were not many courses in countryside management like there is now, so getting a job was mainly down to enthusiasm. I think I was the only person to have binoculars. I never go anywhere without them.

“I have always been interested in wildlife. One of my earliest memories was going outside with my family and watching pink-footed geese fly over our house and wildlife soon became part of my life.”

After 19 years at Bretton Country Park, he moved to Anglers Country Park, where he won a Green Flag Award and Pride of Wakefield Award for his conservation and recreational work. He then worked at Walton Nature Park and took charge of more than 20 smaller council-owned sites to meet the increased demand for conservation work.

He also started up two important friends groups, which now look after sites at Walton and Newmillerdam.

During the years Mr Baxter has shared his passion with hundreds of school groups, and lead numerous walks and talks while incorporating music, dance and storytelling.

He said there are now otters in the city, but their locations are kept secret, and his most memorable spot was of Ospreys at Anglers Country Park. His most unusual viewing was of Laughing Gulls.

Mr Baxter, of Clayton West, added: “The most rewarding part has been working with children. Some have not seen a wood or lake before and it is a real eye-opener. I have noticed more people take an interest in wildlife now.”

Mr Baxter said he will not hang up his binoculars just yet and will continue to explore Wakefield’s wildlife.