Thu 18 Jan 2024
Lawson with Tinkerbell, his biggest tortoise, which weighs in at an impressive 5kg or 11lbs
You can blame his dad, also called Lawson and a Vale resident for more than 50 years. Mr Pipet senior (pictured below with two of the original tortoises) had three tortoises when Lawson was a child, and that’s when he developed an interest in what are actually (to be scientific) reptiles of the family Testudinidae of the order Testudines. Two of them live in Lawson’s garden with the other 55, meaning they are well over 50 years old.
As you might expect, looking after 57 tortoises isn't easy and takes quite a bit of time to make sure they're under cover at night, safe from anything that might harm them and in the right place when they look to hibernate in the winter. They also eat a lot – about a black sack of greens a day – which is why if Lawson sees a promising patch of weeds like sow thistle or dandelion in someone's garden while delivering the post, he'll often ask if he can take some.
"If they say yes, I'll come back after work and take what I need," he says. "Sometimes people are surprised, until I explain what they’re for, but then they're usually delighted that I'm helping to clear up a bit."
Lawson also grows lettuces, nasturtiums and other tasty food in his garden for his, er, herd... flock... collection. Actually, the proper expression is a "creep" of tortoises and they have the run of what used to be a commercial greenhouse before being given over to keeping them in the best possible conditions and peak health.
Special care and netting is needed to keep them safe from predators and over the years Lawson has become a recognised expert on breeding, keeping and rearing tortoises and regularly gives other owners advice.
He used to breed tortoises but today his interest lies more in running what has become a tortoise sanctuary, rescuing pets that their owners can no longer look after and sharing his knowledge with others to keep their pets in peak health and comfort.
His creep consists of babies aged up to two, ‘toddlers' and fully grown adults and all need different care, particularly when they prepare to hibernate for the winter.
In all, he has four commercial fridges to keep them in and at an ambient temperature over winter and an indoor setup for the young tortoises combining a vivarium and table with a ramp (pictured).
"Yes, I suppose it is quite a bit of work but I enjoy it and they are all little personalities in their own right," Lawson said of his hobby.
"It's also good to be able to rehome tortoises when there's a need to do so." For instance, one year he took on 11 tortoises from three different owners looking for a good home with someone who had a large, open enclosure and the experience to treat them as they had done.
Spend an afternoon with Lawson and his family and it's easy to see the appeal of tortoises – all individuals in their own right and with very different attitudes.
The tortoises are doing well in hibernation and are now in various phases of dormancy depending on age. Some of the babies are now out and a few heavier ones followed after Christmas. The toddlers and adults will be in a bit longer, with the adults last to come out of hibernation normally around mid to end of March.
Lawson's active on tortoise welfare websites and has launched a Guernsey Tortoise Facebook page where he and others can share their expertise and interest in these remarkable animals. It now has more than 50 members and welcomes more and anyone interested in these fantastic 'mini-beasts'.
If anyone is interested in learning more, Lawson can be contacted through Guernsey Tortoise Keepers Facebook group or via [email protected]
Lawson Pipet Senior with two of the original three tortoises. The third unfortunately passed away two years ago. In the photo is a male spur thighed tortoise commonly known as a Greek tortoise. His name is Timmy. The other tortoise Mr Lawson is holding is a Herman's tortoise called Mummy.