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Risk

March 6, 2012

Organisations have different expectations, standards, requirements. I am insured for a ridiculous amount of money by my university to carry out fieldwork. I have filled out health forms, risk assessment forms, I follow a checking in protocol. For some people, risk assessment would appear to mean the elimination of risk. It doesn’t. The risk is there. I get up in the morning. I drive a car. I go alone to lonely places and I spend hours there pottering around trying to record birds singing. I walk over rough terrain. I get rained on. I rarely meet anybody. But I could. I could meet a nasty man who could do unspeakable things to me. I would resist, but I mightn’t be able to stop him. I could get killed. Or I could simply fall over and break a leg or knock my head. All these things could happen.

 

I am not stupid. I have never been unaware of potential danger right back to when I was about twelve, when a teenage boy I knew slightly harried me. I was able to rebuff him, largely, I think, because he wasn’t quite sure of his ground. And I came to resent my mother’s, it seemed to me, overriding anxiety when I announced, as I did almost every day, that I was going to walk the dog. That meant over the fields. Years later, she told me that she almost attacked when she was nine and out alone on her bike. The thing that saved her was her shouting at the man that her father was a guard (ie, a policeman in the Irish republic). At that information, he desisted.

 

Similar awareness by my neighbours at home of who I was, who my father was, probably protected me more than I realised. I didn’t ask permission to walk the fields. I just did. I probably took more risks than I should have, particularly with regard to cattle, and once or twice, I went into a field with a bull in the company of my dog, which was foolish. I wouldn’t do that now. But I learned so much from those lone walks, most of all confidence in my body, in my ability to cover terrain, to negotiate obstacles, climbing fences, ducking under barbed wire. I’ve never lost it. When I am alone in lonely places, I feel most myself. I feel calm. I feel confidently appraising. I feel at home.

 

I’m good at fieldwork. Those early years stand me in good stead. I’m patient, and that watchfulness that I learned early is entirely appropriate and functional in that context. Away from feeling observed, I forget about myself. I think about the birds. I admire their determination in their own lives. The way the males just sing to announce their desire. There is a shocking vulnerability about it. I love their otherness, separateness. We are utterly irrelevant to them. They have no interest in me, except as a potential predator, and when they ignore me I feel exhilarated by this substitute for trust.

 

However, a bit like my mother, some organisations are anxious. They too know the risks and they judge them differently to me. They may even have borne some consequences in the past. They are not going to easily let me wander over their property, and even get out of hours access, without a good deal of evidence that if anything should happen to me, they will not be responsible.

 

Fair enough. I follow an additional checking-in protocol with several managers, whereby I text as I enter the reserve (I respect these people’s willingness to receive texts pre-dawn!) and as I leave.

 

What is frustrating, is when the same organisation, in different regions, has different requirements. One large public body, with a huge amount of public land, has several regions. Following one phone conversation, last year one manager sent me a key to a park in the post. Similarly, another gave me the keys after a single meeting. Granted, I had already sent all the paperwork. But still, it was fairly casual. With the other region, I was grilled and grilled. Where precisely would I be? Did I have to get out of the car? What did I mean, I simply walked to where I heard a bird singing? Could I not work that out in advance? And why did the weather determine whether I would actually show up on a planned day or not? This year, that same region’s manager, is demanding even more paperwork. I haven’t even bothered to argue that his equivalents in other regions have simply given me keys, are happy with the same protocol as last year.

 

With another organisation it was almost worse. I had to sign up for their own special insurance. Now, that same organisation, despite the fact that I worked on with no trouble at all on their land last year, are baulking at letting me back. Yet more paperwork. Can the university make an explicit statement that I’m insured to carry a key for the reserve?

 

I am exhausted from early risings, and struggling with stats. I have a talk to give on the 23rd and I’m not remotely prepared. Can we a little consistency please? Can you people stop worrying? I’m the university’s responsibility! I’m paid out of the public purse to do Important Research. Please stop putting unnecessary obstacles in my way! Risk is part of life, people!

 

I breathe deep, and remember those barbed wire fences. They didn’t stop me either.

 

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3 Comments
  1. soulwaiser permalink

    Here here

  2. Important Research, indeed. You’ll sort them out, never fear 🙂

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