Meet our volunteers - Derek Bates

, 17 June 2021
Meet our volunteers - Derek Bates
Derek Bates © Emma Chaplin

Tells us a bit about yourself

I was born in 1938 in Beckenham. In the war time years I wasn’t evacuated, I stayed in South London with the doodlebugs and bombings. My father was in the RAF, but he was also a gardener and was interested in insects and butterflies.

I joined an architects’ firm in Westminster as a draughtsman for £1 a week.

We moved to St Leonards on Sea in 1968. There was so much lovely, open countryside then. I was the only car user on my road.

I first came across Filsham Reedbed in 1973, with my family, including my two daughters Sharon and Lynn. They were both interested in wildlife and butterflies and Sharon has a bird group now. They’re both still local, and I enjoy having both grandchildren and great grandchildren nearby.

As a bird watcher I knew Filsham Reedbed as a site that had warblers, water rail and other water birds. I found out that Hastings Borough Council were intending to turn it into a domestic waste site. I got in touch with Sussex Wildlife Trust and we persuaded the council not to go ahead with it. Sussex Wildlife Trust have managed Filsham Reedbed ever since on behalf of Hastings BC. 

Filsham Reedbed©Miles DaviesSussex Wildlife Trust

Filsham Reedbed © Miles Davies

I’ve been a member of the Trust since then, as well as a volunteer.

Jack McTear was their Liaison Officer and together we started the East Sussex Conservation Corps. We persuaded the Borough Council to extend the wetland, and later, with the support of many others, we acquired a total of 42 acres and turned Filsham Reedbed into a Local Nature Reserve. We also raised money to get a pond dug in 1975.

Derek old pic web filsham

Derek and Jack McTear at Filsham Reedbed in the 70s

After Jack McTear died, I took over as Volunteer Reserve Manager. I was also VRM of Flatropers Wood, Marline and several other sites. I formed the Powder Mill Trust with Jack, affiliated with Sussex Wildlife Trust, supporting Powder Mill Wood in Battle Abbey grounds.

What has been challenging?

I’ve loved the volunteering, but trying to do all of it and hold down a job in London (I became designer for London Transport Executive) was very hard.

What have you most enjoyed?

All of it! The valued friendship of like-minded, wildlife loving people - I loved working with a team. I was encouraged to feel that my role was important, helping wildlife by safeguarding and creating habitats. The wonderful Trust magazine, Wildlife. I enjoyed the role of Lookering. It’s kept me fit, healthy and happy.

And you’re still volunteering with us now?

I am! 48 years later.

Leave a comment


  • Cliff Dean:

    I first met Derek – in the middle of Filsham Reedbed – very soon after I moved to Hastings in 1976. He showed me the slope west of Hartley Shute Road, at that time little fields full of Green-winged Orchids and soon after built over. His efforts to protect Filsham was the first step in recognising the wildlife value and protecting the beautiful Combe Haven, at a time when almost all others had turned their backs on it. Perhaps he was too modest to mention the great artistic and craft skills he has brought to bear on natural and historic subjects, or his role as Norman Knight at Battle Abbey!

    17 Jun 2021 16:35:00

  • Sandra Cherrill Ward:

    What an amazing story. Just shows how one person can make such a difference.

    24 Jun 2021 15:41:00

  • Lee Cornes:

    Wow! What enthusiasm, dedication and perseverance. Thank you Derek for enriching our lives.

    25 Jun 2021 08:19:00

  • Sarah Quantrill:

    I have worked with Derek many times at Filsham over the past eight years when I have taken the Saturday Hit Squad there. Everyone loves his enthusiasm and stories, and he is is so appreciative of other volunteers. We probably wouldn’t have Filsham Reserve if it wasn’t for all his hard work back in the 70’s. Since then he has continued to help it become a flourishing place for wildlife. Thanks Derek, I hope I see you again soon.

    27 Jun 2021 16:57:00

  • Jane Brooman:

    Wow, thank you for that lovely story, i know Filsham Reed Beds and Flatroopers well, what a lovely man I feel grateful for his hard work and made me feel a bit braver about volunteering !

    28 Jun 2021 13:25:00

  • Jenny Davies:

    What a wonderful heart warming story! Thank you Derek for all that you have accomplished over the years.

    03 Jul 2021 07:38:00