For almost eight years, he lived in a land of creeks and channels, mudflats and marshes, sand and sea, samphire and stars.

Island life can be idyllic or a battle against the elements, but it is never dull, as Blakeney Point’s former National Trust ranger Ajay Tegala knows first-hand.

He spent most of his 20s working at the world-renowned Norfolk nature reserve and has recently written a book which draws from his diaries kept on the Point.

The Unique Life of a Ranger: Seasons of Change on Blakeney Point, is a love letter to Norfolk, to the first coastal nature reserve in the Trust’s care, to the people who worked alongside him and most of all, to the nature that he shared a home with.

Created during lockdown, the book is a fascinating glimpse of a life known by only a handful of hardy rangers and wardens who made a lonely spit of shingle home in order to protect seal colonies and internationally-important seabirds.

And it all started with feeding the ducks in Lincolnshire.

Ajay was born just as his mum Beverley, a scientist, and dad TT, a special needs teacher, were ready to move from Surrey to East Anglia.

The oldest of three – Ajay’s sister Zinzi is a solicitor and his brother Ronan works for the NHS – he loved growing up in the Deepings, close to the River Welland and Deeping Lakes, a 160-acre Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, teeming with bird life.

“I think it was there that it all began,” he tells me, “…those first memories of feeding the ducks really must have stuck with me!”

Ajay remembers the boat trip that would eventually transport him to a whole new life: he was 14, it was June half-term and he was visiting Norfolk with his parents.

“It was a grey day and there was mist over the sea as we left Morston Quay but as we reached the Point it lifted,” he says.

“The air was just full of bird cries, from Sandwich terns to black-headed gulls and there were dozens of common seals at the edge of the water.

“I was used to garden birds and the river fowl of Lincolnshire, so to be surrounded by oystercatchers and sea birds was magical. It felt like I’d been given the key to a secret world and I never forgot that trip and how it felt to be in the middle of the sea.”

Blakeney Point was the country’s first coastal nature reserve, transferring from private ownership to the National Trust in 1912, while the first inland reserve had been founded by the Trust in 1899, at Wicken Fen.

It was there where Ajay, whose grandparents lived nearby, went for work experience.

“I remember one of the wardens telling me that they looked forward to Monday mornings and being at work and I thought: ‘that’s what I want to do!’”, he said.

Five summers after his first trip to Blakeney Point, Ajay started as a volunteer assistant warden as part of his environmental conservation and countryside management degree.

The 19-year-old went from student antics – parties, beer, late nights – to life in North Norfolk, where the pub was the nightlife and the bright lights were the stars in the dark coastal skies.

“It was a big change, but almost immediately I fell in love with Blakeney,” said Ajay, “it was just as magical as I’d remembered.”

Much of Ajay’s year was spent on the mainland, but as often as he could, he would go out to the Point by boat to cover the wardens’ leave and help out with visitors.

One of his most important jobs was to wait ‘on gap’ for visitors making their way to the Point to ensure they realised the importance of asking walkers to stick to the shoreline as possible, offering them a good – but distant – view of seals without disturbing terns.

Some areas were out of bounds to visitors entirely and would-be wild campers and barbecuers had to be gently turned away.

He saw his first short-eared owl, glowing gold in the evening light, spent nights on the Point, enjoyed a pint or two from the wardens’ Woodforde’s Wherry supply, experienced the micro-climate first-hand, checked moth traps and took part in projects to educate visitors about wildlife safety.

It’s a message he’s never forgotten: he checks with me twice that I’ll remember to mention the vital importance of giving wildlife the space it needs to thrive and survive.

The wildlife, his beloved birds and the seals that make Norfolk their home, are always foremost in his mind when thinking of Blakeney: “Everything we do is about keeping the wildlife safe and helping others to enjoy nature without harming it,” he tells me.

While at Blakeney, to earn some extra money, Ajay worked at Wiveton Hall as a pot washer for the legendary Desmond MacCarthy and threw himself into community life in the village.

“People were so welcoming and kind, I knew no one when I arrived but by the time I left, I felt so at home,” he said.

“It felt like another world, especially on the Point where at that time we only had electricity for two hours a day, so it was candles and gas bottles, battery-operated radios. It was like being on a boat, many years ago, far away from the life I’d known.

“I turned 20 on Blakeney Point and marked the end of my teen years with a swim in the sea, a few drinks and a bit of Swiss roll! It was perfect!”

He worked through the grey seal pupping season, enjoyed the monthly wetland bird count, witnessed the marvel of the pink-footed geese, attended the annual ferryman’s Christmas dinner and returned home for Christmas.

When he returned after the festivities, he drove through snow showers back to Norfolk.

He wrote, rather adorably, in his diary: “How beautiful the coast, how lucky I am, how wonderful life is, how fantastically, amazingly brilliant.”

He tells me: “I think the most wonderful part of being on the Point was when the evening came and you were on the beach, there would be a beautiful sunset and you’d hear the birdsong and it was just you, and nature.

“I realised that money couldn’t buy what I had. The privilege felt immense.”

Months later, Ajay spent his last night on the Point: during a swim he was joined by a seal and as darkness fell and the Lifeboat House was lit by candles, he felt completely at home.

After graduating the next year, he took a role as a cycle hire assistant at Wicken Fen, where he was also able to help with conservation work, but was offered a role back at Blakeney in the following April.

Accepting meant less money and leaving Wicken, but it was too tempting to refuse: the chance to return to the Point, to see ‘the rares’, to experience a unique environment for more than half a year. Ajay returned to Norfolk.

Since his last visit, modernity had arrived in the form of solar panels which allowed rangers to heat their bedrooms at The Lifeboat House with a quick blast of hot air each evening.

“It felt like luxury!” he recalled, laughing.

Days would begin by checking the bushes for migrant birds, sweeping ever-present sand from the visitor centre floor, and then working with the tides in regard to jobs such as seal-counting and Sandwich tern roost counting.

“It is a very special place, and animals and birds think so too,” said Ajay.

“Our largest marine mammal the grey seal and the common seal make their home there and the grey seals pup there in winter.

“I think that the coast is the closest to true wilderness that we have in Britain, because the land is shaped by the sea, inland is affected by man, but the Point is timeless.

“I spent time with people who knew the rhythm of the tides, how to steer a boat to harbour, when it was safe to walk to land, where the quick sand is, how to understand the creeks and where boats can run aground. The wildlife taught me everything else I needed to know.”

After his first Blakeney season, he left the Point and within a day was moving into a new house in Berwick-upon-Tweed for another seasonal job, this time on Lindisfarne, but the call back to Norfolk was swift and compelling.

Having landed the job as Blakeney Point ranger, from 2013 to 2018, Norfolk was home.

Ajay’s book is filled with stories of rescuing net-trapped seals, the first swift sightings of the season, rare sightings of birds such as pallid harriers and Bluethroats, of 4am starts to look for egg thieves and carefully moving ringed plover eggs in high tides (a job only an expert can do).

He tells me about the swallows and their nests of wet mud, the thrill of the arrival of the first terns, the joy of hatching season, the full moons that lit a sea-path to harbour and the majesty of migrant birds heading south to their wintering grounds.

Then there was the ‘Tideline Challenge’, eating the in-date food that washed up on the shore – for the strong-stomached only – the fight against predators on the island, the fungus forays, unexploded wartime finds, floods, tidal surges and popstars landing on the shingle spit despite being told not to.

Amid the beauty, there were heart-breaking dramas: when the Norfolk coast was battered by the most serious tidal surge in 30 years in December 2013 and a year later when a terrible helicopter crash killed four US servicemen.

“People asked me if I got lonely on the Point, but I like peace, quiet and space and there were beautiful beaches, wildlife and sunsets, and actually, a lot happened!” said Ajay.

His romance with husband Harry (Mitchell, ‘Posh Harry’ of Radio Broadland fame) began on the Point, although the couple faced several unusual challenges.

Firstly, Ajay was living on an isolated shingle spit, secondly, the beginning of their relationship coincided with a pipe leak that meant no running water for three months.

“It meant no showers and no washing machines. You know it’s love if someone can put up with that!” he laughs.

“Harry would come and spend weekends on the Point and arrive on a Friday to help out with a bottle of wine and his laptop so he could work. It may be a tiny island, but we had the most beautiful place imaginable almost all to ourselves.”

It also led to an incredibly romantic marriage proposal while swimming in the sea under moonlight at midsummer: “I’m not sure who asked who, but there was an agreement that we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together,” Ajay tells me.

In 2018, after many happy years, Ajay realised it was time to hand the reins to someone new and start a fresh challenge at a different reserve and with his husband-to-be.

“I remember crossing the harbour at low tide and looking back and thinking ‘that’s no longer my home’,” he said.

“I was sad, but I was excited. And I knew I’d always be back to visit.”

He and Harry, who works in marketing and communications for British Sugar, moved to Costessey near Norwich (“it was strange being surrounded by houses!”) and they married in August 2018.

Working back at Wicken Fen, where his National Trust journey began, with Harry working in Peterborough, it made sense to move to Manea in Cambridgeshire, where they live today with dog Oakley.

Ajay still loves his work, albeit in a very different environment to that of Blakeney Point.

“One of the main differences is that at Wicken, a lot of what I do involves the Fen’s breeding herds of grazing Highland Cattle and Konik ponies, so my day begins checking their welfare and making sure they’re safe,” he said.

“Outside the breeding season there’s a lot of work to do on clearing land and during the winter months we have a licence to abstract water, so while water used to be pumped off the Fen, now we pump it on to help wildlife,” he said.

“When we flood the first part of the Fen in November, the birds literally flock there overnight which is magical.

“It’s those moments captured over the years that stay with you, seeing a Bittern in flight or finding a Short-eared Owl when you go out to check on the cows.”

He also relishes the TV work he’s been involved with recently, which began early in his Blakeney days with filming alongside Countryfile and with Channel 4 which featured the Lifeboat House in a programme about unique homes on the coast.

Next followed Autumnwatch, then Winterwatch in 2014, when military-grade thermal imaging was used for the first time by the BBC to film thousands of seals on the Point in their ‘rookery’, or colony.

Springwatch in 2016 followed – a sofa appearance with pop star Will Young, no less – and then there was filming with Neil Oliver for the BBC’s Coast series, then for a programme called Secrets of the National Trust.

In between there’s been Walking Through History, quiz shows Curious Creatures and Eggheads and soon, he will be presenting CBeebies’ Teeny Tiny Creatures about Daddy Long Legs (craneflies to those in the know).

In 2020, just before Halloween, Ajay co- presented Inside the Batcave, which offered viewers a remarkable journey into the secret world of one of the most endangered and least understood animals on earth.

He remembers being taken to see bats when he was a little boy.

“There was an old brick kiln where bats roosted and I remember seeing them emerge in the dusk like a magical cloud, as if they were flying out of a cave,” he said.

“I remember thinking they were much smaller than I’d imagined they would be and watching them fly and swoop like swallows. I was hooked right then.”

With regular radio appearances on BBC Radio, Ajay plans more media work and meanwhile is loving his work at Wicken and at home with Harry and Oakley.

But part of his heart will always be on the Point.

In his book, Ajay remembers Blakeney’s magic: “For me, it is the changing light and changing seasons that are perhaps the most special. When the migrations of terns and wildfowl overlap.

“When first light breaks in spring, rendering the sky golden as the dunes fill with sweet skylark song. When dusk paints the autumn sky with the colours of fire to a soundtrack of curlew calls from the harbour.

“Whenever I hear the distinctive calls of terns, I am transported back to Far Point in Summer: the excitement, the drama, the responsibility, the absolute joy.”

· The Unique Life of a Ranger, published by The History Press, RRP £16.99. Find out about Ajay’s work here